Why does the animated series “Star Wars: Visions”, developed in collaboration with famous Japanese animation studios, refer to the very origins of the saga created by George Lucas?
The release this week of the animated series Star Wars: Visions is an event in more ways than one. An anthology allowing seven Japanese studios to explore the famous saga through nine original short films, the new original Disney + production is also a tribute to Japanese culture, the main source of inspiration for George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars.
From the release of the first opus A New Hope in 1977, several American critics pointed out the similarities between its plot and that of a Japanese film then little known to the general public, Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958).
The two feature films retrace the adventures of a former war hero hidden behind a secret identity, of a princess with a strong character and two picaresque fellow travelers (simple peasants at Kurosawa, droids at Lucas). A reference perfectly assumed by the American filmmaker, who will admit to having been greatly influenced by the work of his Japanese colleague.
We also know that originally, George Lucas wanted to entrust the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Toshirô Mifune, Kurosawa’s favorite actor; Faced with his refusal, the director had even tried to convince him by offering him to play Darth Vader but – unconvinced by the film’s script – the Japanese star had in return expressed a firm and definitive “no” to him.
In 2013, Mika Mifune, the daughter of the comedian, revealed on a Japanese show that if he had accepted the role, Mifune would have appeared with his face uncovered, thus foreshadowing a Darth Vader completely different from the one we know today.
Comparison of the Star Wars films and The Hidden Fortress:
It is not, moreover, the only borrowing made from Japanese cinema by this first Star Wars opus; Darth Vader’s armor is indeed largely inspired by the tunics of samurai warriors, while the term Jedi – which designates the knights of the light side of the Force – is derived from jidai-geki, a typically Japanese cinematic genre denoting chivalrous historical productions (sort of equivalent to our films of cloaks and swords). Jedi outfits are also largely inspired by Japanese kimonos worn in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Japanese culture also inspired the prelogy
In the prelogy, Queen Amidala’s appearance in The Phantom Menace is a direct reference to the costumes and make-up of the kabuki theater. As for the concept of padawan, the students trained by the Jedi masters, if it does not refer directly to the Japanese vocabulary, it is difficult on the other hand not to note the inspiration of the functions of the senpai and kōhai, which mark the respect expressed by a young Japanese student towards an elder in Japan.
The sovereign of Naboo embodied by Natalie Portman also uses in this same film to backings in order to be able to carry out incognito missions of recognition, in particular on the planet Tattooine where she meets the young Anakin Skywalker. This subterfuge allows her to strengthen her security system, her attendants (embodied in particular by Keira Knightley and Sofia Coppola) playing the role of public targets since the appearance of the young queen without her makeup and her pageantry is not known to her. enemies.
A process that obviously recalls the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha; in Japanese folklore, the kagemusha was the name given to the official double responsible for ensuring the replacement of a personality during his public appearances.
In the 1980 feature film, it is about a simple thief who is propelled against the daimyo Takeda Shingen, so that the news of his death is not rumored to the ears of the rival clans. Should we also remember that Kagemusha is co-produced by George Lucas?
Lucas’ heirs also influenced by Japan
The buyout of the company Lucasfilm Ltd. by Disney put an end to this tradition? Not at all ! During the promotion of The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson revealed that he was greatly inspired by Japanese master, Akira Kurosawa of course, but also Hideo Gosha, whose film Three Outlaw Samurai had a direct influence on the choreography of lightsaber fights in Episode VIII he directed.
Japanese culture also occupies a large place in the spin-off Rogue One, in particular through the character of Chirrut Îmwe played by the Chinese actor Donnie Yen, probably inspired by the famous blind swashbuckler Zatoichi. A reference assumed by the latter, who also underlined in an interview given to our colleagues from First the great tradition of blind fighters in the world of martial arts.
More recently, JJ Abrams justified the return of Kylo Ren’s helmet in The Rise of Skywalker by evoking the concept of Kintsugi, a traditional method used to repair ceramic bowls using a golden powder to render to the object its aesthetic aspect but also symbolize its past life by celebrating its “rebirth”.