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10 Other Movies Where East Meets West

Posted on the 09 August 2013 by House Of Geekery @houseofgeekery

In 1988, comic writer, Chris Claremont, one of the most influential writers of the X-Men since Stan Lee first created them, and Frank Miller, a fan favorite comic creator who finds beauty in violence and method in madness, teamed up to try and explain Wolverine’s character. At this point, Wolverine’s driving characteristic, beside his rage, was his enigmatic nature. He is amnesic and is missing memories from a good portion of his life. I would say his personality would lend himself to a Western pretty easily, but they decided to implant him in Japan and make connections to the masterless ronin. It got me thinking about other movies that connect Eastern and Western archetypes, especially those between the ronin and the gunslingers.

Yojimbo vs A Fistful of Dollars

Yojimbo vs A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars/Magnificent Seven

I’m not really sure when romanticized gunslingers of the American west started getting compared to the noble samurai, especially the masterless ronin, but these 2 movies probably have a lot to do with it. Dubbed “spaghetti westerns” since they were primarily made by Italians (which I don’t think they like), these Westerns blurred the line of good and evil. No white hats here. The thing that directly connects them with samurais though is that they are actually remakes of Akira Kurasawa films. A Fistful of Dollars is based on Yojimbo, about a knight errant ronin who roams into a village and plays 2 rival gangs off each other, while Magnificent Seven is based on Seven Samurai about a poor town plagued by bandits who hire 7 ronin as protection. 

Star Wars

The Jedi Samurai and the Gunslinging Space Pirate

Original Star Wars Trilogy

It has been pointed out many times the comparisons between the original Star Wars and Kurasawa’s Hidden Fortress, but the samurai vs gunslinger iconography goes a step further. George Lucas actively contrasts the 2 by having a samurai team up with a gunslinger, or at least the space opera version of those archetypes. Luke Skywalker fills in as the samurai. His weapon of choice is a lightsaber, not unlike a sword. He is also naively noble and honorable which clashes with Han Solo’s world-weary selfishness and brashness. His weapon of choice is a sidearm and would fit right in at a sandy saloon in the Wild West.

A new Los Angeles

A new Los Angeles

Blade Runner

In the 1980s, it was believed that the future meant that Japan would pass America in economic success. This lead to multiple films about the future where Japanese culture seemed to spread world wide. Back to the Future II. Total Recall. Demolition Man. Johnny Mnemonic. And then there’s Blade Runner, which takes place in Los Angeles but could have very well taken place in a modern Japanese city. Author, William Gibson said of it: 

Modern Japan simply was cyberpunk. The Japanese themselves knew it and delighted in it. I remember my first glimpse of Shibuya, when one of the young Tokyo journalists who had taken me there, his face drenched with the light of a thousand media-suns – all that towering, animated crawl of commercial information – said, ‘You see? You see? It is Blade Runner town.’ And it was. It so evidently was.

Ninja Turtles

Raph picking his teeth with his ninja weapon

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

At first glance, the first Ninja Turtles movie might not seem like the most sophisticated look at martial arts and Japanese culture, but I think it holds a pretty strong place in the “East meets West” concept. The turtles are taught ninjitsu by their father figure, Splinter the Rat, who also instills in them many of the philosophical teachings of the ninja including but not limited to nobility and honor. Although, they are nothing like the Western gunslingers. They fit a very different kind of West archetype: the California surfers. They are a fun-loving bunch stuffing their faces with pizza and skatebaording around the cities of New York. They are well-trained, but it doesn’t stop them from talking like Bill and Ted. They are teenagers after all.

Ghost Dog

Ghost Dog

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog is a Jersey hitman played by Forest Whitaker. He works for Louie, a stereotypical Italian gangster, as are most of the gangsters. What makes Ghost Dog different from most hitmen is that he practices Hagakure, a book documenting bushido, the way of the samurai. Ghost Dog sees Louie as his master ever since Louie saved his life. After Ghost Dog gets sloppy killing a “made man,” high ranking mafia member, Louie’s superiors in the mafia decide to take out Ghost Dog so that they aren’t implicated in the death of someone who was “off limits.” Because Ghost Dog sees himself as a samurai even though he is on the streets of modern New Jersey, he brings war on the mafia in order to protect himself and his master. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it is probably the most interesting connection between East and West. 

Cowboy Bebop

Just a humble bounty hunter

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is an anime movie based on the series of the same name. It actually takes place between episodes 22 and 23 (only 26 episodes total). The story take place in the future where humans have ventured off Earth and colonized space. These colonies are connected by hyperdrive tunnels (basically interstellar highways). Space flight is common and this leaves a whole lot of space uninhabited and easy to get lost in. With so much “frontier,” this future has started using a bounty system to catch a lot of criminals. So the cowboy in the title refers to the bounty hunting crew of the spaceship, Bebop. This includes Spike Spiegel, a former gangster turned reluctantly heroic, gunslinging bounty hunter with a hell of a lot in common with Han Solo. He is also shown to have philosophy similar to bushido (the way of the samurai) like believing death is just waking from a dream.

Tom Cruise

The Last Samurai

This is another movie about comparing and contrasting the samurai and the cowboy by teaming them up. Tom Cruise plays an early American military man involved in massacring Indians so that white settlers could manifest their destiny, so to speak. His role in that piece of violence turned him to the bottle, but some Japanese business man still wants him to come to Japan to equip and train their army in the ways of the West so that they can stop a samurai rebellion, led by the great Ken Watanabe. Cruise’ warrior spirit impresses Watanabe so much that they capture Cruise. The 2 bond and eventually fight back against the West-trained Japanese forces together. 

lost_in_translation3

Lost in Translation

This one clearly has nothing to do with cowboys and samurais, but it is still about East meets West as far as I am concerned. The title refers to the cultural differences that are hard to translate into different languages because context doesn’t always make sense. This film follows Bill Murray’s aging movie star has a bit of a mid-life crisis while on assignment in Japan. There, he meets a young woman played by Scarlet Johansson. The 2 bond considering they are both kind of lost in their own lives experiencing the culture shock of Japan as well as the obvious differences due to their age gap.

kill_bill_vol_21

Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2

The Kill Bill series was a love letter to classic grindhouse cinema, his first in a long line of them after making more modern pulp-noir thrillers. It starred Uma Thurman as The Bride, a nameless assassin looking for revenge for her old team that betrayed her and tried to killer her. The movie was so long Tarantino split it into 2 parts. The first part was reminiscent of old kung fu flicks, while the the second had a little more in common with the spaghetti western.The differences are mostly superficial (one being a more colorful and energetic ride while the other being full of faded Earth tones and stoic, slow pacing), but the tone and overall characterization of the films remain in tact for one to the next leaving us with a very interesting experiment of mixing genres that works out better than could be expected.

sukiyaki_western_django

Sukiyaki Western Django

This is kind of a weird movie in more than one way. The film itself is very colorful and outlandish. A Japanese gunslinger decked out in a duster, cowboy hat, and six shooter, finds himself stuck between two  Japanese gangs, the Whites and the Red. This makes it a remake of A Fistful of Dollars, which is itself already a remake of Yojimbo, a Japanese movie. So, in case your not following, a Japanese remake of an American remake of a Japanese movie. Director Miike has a way with capturing violence with plenty of action scenes mixing guns and swords colliding with each other in dynamic ways as well as a bookending narrative device of a Cowboy Tarantino telling the tale.


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