Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day Thirty - Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire, or "Kind of tame, actually."

I'm a bit of a japanophile.

I love anime, watch The Last Samurai (and enjoy it, unironically), and love the old Zatoichi television series to death. Black and white period drama with swordplay and shamisen music? I'm there.

With that in mind, I was a bit disappointed with the first episode of this three part documentary on Japan which covered the end of the Warring States period.

It hints at the significance of various aspects of samurai life, but only the highlights of what a Westerner would expect to have already gleaned from various channels. Seppuku, Kendo, the Shogunate... the key battle that ended the Sengoku (the Warring States period of Japan), the Battle of Sekigahara, is given maybe five minutes of screen time... as much as, say, Gettysburg would be given in a longitudinal study of Lincoln's presidency.

And, I think that's the problem with this documentary. It's more a high school history lesson on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (which would rule japan for hundreds of years), than an in-depth study of Japan itself. It would be like watching something called "A History of Rome" that only focused on Julius Caesar.

I do find it tongue in cheek that the makers got Richard Chamberlain to narrate the doc, as he is famous for portraying the English hero of the 80's miniseries Shogun, based on James Clavell's novel (though, in the novel, they changed the name to Toranaga instead of Tokugawa). The book and series tell the tale of an Englishman trapped in Japan during the period of time just before the Tokugawa Shogunate was established. Sort of like getting Daniel Day-Lewis to do that doc on Lincoln or Charlton Heston to do the Rome doc.

Still, for a highlights doc, it's not terrible. I just wish they'd talk more about the land, the law, and the culture than what was given. It's a short documentary, though, only clocking in around an hour an episode. Certainly not a grand Ken Burns style epic that gives you everything from top to bottom about a particular subject. Maybe they just didn't have the time?

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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