Genre Evolution and Atypical Samurai Image: Yamada Yoji's Samurai Trilogy
The samurai film has long been considered a typical Japanese genre with cookie-cutter images, plots and characters whereby the presupposed samurai ideals of sacrifice, devotion and loyalty are promulgated to uphold the status quo of the Japanese society. Nevertheless, probing into the defining elements reflected in the long history of the genre, one can see that they have been constantly reexamined and that critical thinking more often than not turned up to ruminate over the sociopolitical issues adhered to the samurai code. The samurai, in effect, were of a privileged class rooted in historical actuality. The so-called Bushido tenets were mandated by the Tokugawa bakufu to strengthen its reign over the feudal territorial clans and their retainers. The historical samurai gradually formed a bureaucratic order. The samurai image and beliefs, however, had been embellished repeatedly in artistic representations and sublimated to the level of myth. Veteran director Yamada Yoji tried his hand at the samurai genre and created samurai trilogy, Tasogare seibei, Kakushi ken oni no tsume and Bushi no ichibun with low-rung samurai as the protagonists in contrast to the typical heroes in the previous samurai films. Yamada likens the turbulent bakumatsu period to contemporary Japanese society and sees the samurai not as warriors but as functionaries struggling in an oppressive system, who are always pathetic in one way or another. This essay, then, will deal with not only the evolution of the samurai genre in terms of the disparate samurai images along with certain concepts of them but also Yamada’s approach to the historical realities and his conception of the atypical samurai image from a historiographical perspective.