#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

1985… Homeward Bound

Anime and Simon & Garfunkel… now here’s a nice combination to consider…

I’m sitting in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band
Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home where my thought’s escaping
Home where my music’s playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Slightly melancholy, a yearning to go back somewhere to feel safe, warm, or protected. A return to the familiar for a short time before continuing again on your journey; sanctuary. Some of us have a series or movie that we return to that symbolizes home, for me it’s the original Macross. Yet there is one particular year that also represents a place of peace for me as well and that is 1985. Not that I want to go back to the year 1985, it’s just that there are many productions from the year that I personally love and if I had to do a top 10 listing from the 1980s, I could fill a majority of it with titles from the ole ‘85.

Before diving into titles from 1985, I have to back track with two key experiences I have had for the year. The first being the airing of Robotech, which as a child became the keystone that solidified my love for Japanese animation. Criticize, or praise the show if you wish, but for what it was for my life at that time… it was just, perfect. Also my first panel presentation I gave was about the year 1985. What a coincidence to give a presentation in 2015 and needing a topic when 30 years prior was a storehouse of awesome anime from 1985. Again… perfect. Some titles I knew well, some I got acquainted with for the first time and some I never knew existed became familiar. It was scary, but highly rewarding, as that panel gave me confidence and allowed me to share something I loved and know I was in good company.

1985 was a classic year for the direct to video OVA market. Having only existed for a year and change, 1985 would breed many classics and stand as a testament for quality productions. Titles such as Area 88, Bobby’s Girl, Cosmo Police JustyDream Dimension Hunter Fandora, Dream Hunter RemFight! Iczer-OneFire Tripper, Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko and Megazone 23 all had a place to shine outside the normal confines of cinema and television. One could create original work that may not fit into the two previous categories and be both of high quality and in some cases commercially successful. Yet the format also allowed previously created properties a chance to expand beyond their own previously created spaces. OVAs would feature titles that gave more depth, or alternate stories to Armored Trooper Votoms, Dirty Pair, Fairy Princess Minky Momo, Genesis Climber MospeadaGoShogun, Magical Angel Creamy Mami and Galactic Drifter Vifam. Of course all of these titles were released on analog formats like VHS and LaserDisc. DVD, Blu-Ray and even streaming were still far off sci-fi concepts in the mid 1980s.

And what of the big screen? Anime cinema of 1985 has quite a few options from the entertaining to the challenging to the… ee… shameful, perhaps. Action and adventure abound in the Dagger of Kamui, Vampire Hunter D and Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon (Pink jacket!). Sanrio released Fairy Florence/A Journey Through Fairyland and Mamoru Oshii challenged us with the haunting Angel’s Egg. Even more challenging was a rare film called Lullaby to the Big Sleep; a very intense psychological portrait. My favorite film from 1985 is the gentle and melancholy Night on the Galactic Railroad. Outer space, trains, cats and deep philosophy… perfect. And then there was Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight… ODIN! Some folks love it, but I often times end up falling asleep though it.

That leaves us with television for our final category. It is a good thing it is 2019 and not 1985 because I would be watching way more TV than I do now. …wait? Besides anime I don’t watch hardly any TV anymore, well except for an occasional weather report. If it were 1985 I would be wearing out a few couches watching the great mecha titles like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner and more average titles like Dancougar and Tobikage. But then there are the shojo titles like Alpen Rose, Little Princess Sara and Pierrot’s Magical Star Magical Emi which will require another couch. And then there was the Dirty Pair, High School Kimengumi (a Shonen Jump title), Musashi no Ken and a variation of GeGeGe no Kitaro. More couches! And finally Touch. All 101 episodes of baseball, drama and romance. That may require two couches to sit in and is the title I recommend the highest for all the TV series. Touch is so, so good! Don’t take my word for it though.

Also of note for 1985 was the founding of Studio Ghibli after the runaway success of 1984’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The first fruit to bear from the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata came in 1986 with Castle in the Sky. And the rest they say, became history!

So welcome home, to my adopted home of 1985. Hope you stay long and enjoy the variety that made the year special. Of course this is but a mere sampling of the total output from 1985, but it is plenty to get one started. Now it looks like I am going to need some more couches for all these guests, especially if we watch the TV shows! What beverage suits your fancy?

Silently for me
Silently for me…
tacet