Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Bushido Blade’ (1981)

An all-star cast turned up for this fictional sideline to a key incident in both American and Japanese history but ultimately they were let down by a poor script as well as a lack of direction, choreography and editing.

The story centres around a treaty which Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan to get signed by the Shogun in 1854. He brought American technology with him and in return the Shogun wanted to send a national treasure back to the American President as a gift. From that exchange we have our film title! The Bushido Blade is a sword representing the Samurai code and all that Japan holds dear.

Anyway, this ceremonial sword is stolen by a group of rebels led by Lord Yamato (played by Tetsuru Tamba who was Tiger Tanaka in 1967′s Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice‘) who are against the modernisation of Japan and want to keep it’s isolationist policy. The Shogun then refuse to sign the treaty until the sword has been recovered.

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Three American sailors are despatched in pursuit of the blade where they come across Prince Ido (played by Sonny Chiba who appeared in ‘Kill Bill: Volume I’) and a number of prisoners led by a shipwrecked captain played by a much under-used James Earl Jones. They amazingly encounter Japanese people (such as the guy from ‘Conan The Barbarian‘) who seem to speak English which is highly unlikely in 1854 Japan when the country was completely closed off.

There are numerous encounters with a variety of Japanese women in the countryside including a half-Japanese, English-speaking Samurai lady called Tomoe (played by Laura Gemser of ‘Emmanuelle‘ fame). She may have provided some good eye candy (and take her clothes off!) but I found many of her scenes to be unintentionally funny at times. When she’s accused of not appearing to look Japanese she defends herself with somepoorly delivered line about her father being a foreigner, her mother from a respected samurai family and that she was born in a traders compound in Nagasaki. As for the Japanese actresses they didn’t even get any substantial lines including the woman who played Yuki who was a half important character.

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When I purchased this dvd online a couple of years ago I didn’t realise I would be getting a German-language copy. After some nervy moments at the start I was relieved to be able to switch the language to English not that it really mattered too much in the end given the poor dialogue the actors were given to work with. Furthermore, when they weren’t reading badly scripted lines the actors were doing other “filler” activities like a rather silly pointless scene in the middle of the movie at a shrine where there’s a sumo match involving one of the burly sailors taking on a sumo wrestler in one of the film’s needless comical detours.

Overall, the premise of the story and the cast involved promised way more than what we got in this low budget film which was an average film at best and may only be of interest to Japan buffs and samurai fans. The storyline is easy to follow, the film is short but there are many unanswered questions like how on earth it was stolen in the first place. Surely a legendary blade would be better guarded! Would the Shogun really send it to America? Did any of this really matter since ultimately the treaty was signed with the blade not present thereby meaning that the 80 minutes adventure preceding it was entirely void and pointless?!!

Tokyo Fox Rating 4/10

Gunkanjima In Skyfall: Real Or Fake?

In the 2012 movie ‘Skyfall’, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is seen cruising on a boat (below) with the exotic-looking Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) to an abandoned island. Bond is taken prisoner by the crew and delivered to the antagonist Raoul Silva, who is a former MI6 officer that has turned to cyberterrorism having orchestrated the attacks on MI6. We’re led to believe this island is off the coast of Macau but in reality it is actually in the south-west of Japan. Or is it?

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Gunkanjima (formerly known as Hashima) is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port which used to serve as a coal mine. The island is only 480m long and 150m wide but with 5000 residents once living there it had the worlds highest population density which meant that in typical Japanese fashion that every piece of land was built up and so it came to resemble a massive battleship hence the nickname “Gunkanjima” which  translates as battleship island.

Half of the island was for the workings of the mine. The other was devoted to residential space, schools, restaurants, shops, a public bath and a hospital which the workers and their families called home. However, in April 1974 the mine was closed and these residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings.

Since then, severe weather conditions such as typhoons have caused the buildings to deteriorate and as these structures started to erode away and collapse, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, and for many years could only be seen from sightseeing cruises that circled the island.

In the last few years though the place has been open to the public. So you can now walk in the footsteps of James Bond and experience the eerie and haunting atmosphere of the place. Well, not quite.

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First of all, sightseeing boats do actually take you on a 4000 yen round trip from Nagasaki Port to the island and yes you do get to actually go onto the land and snap away with your camera but sadly its just from a few restricted viewpoints.

Secondly, the Gunkanjima scenes in the 23rd Bond film were in reality shot back at the famous Pinewood Studios which has been the home of so many 007 films. As for the long shots seen from the boat they were for real though I suspect Daniel Craig and co never went anywhere this tiny deserted outcrop. One assumes the scene with him and Sévérine on the boat was shot elsewhere and a bit of movie magic was used to blend the Gunkanjima long shots with those that you see below which were grabbed from this great ‘Behind the Scenes’ video on YouTube.

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Skyfall‘ director Sam Mendes said that this location was created using a hybrid of a set and computer-generated images.

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Whilst making The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘ (2011) in Sweden, Daniel Craig met film-maker Thomas Nordanstad, who produced a short documentary in 2002 called ‘Hashima‘, and took extensive notes about the infamous ‘dead city’ during that meeting. This supposedly played a part in the production team choosing to include the Hashima model.

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So, do I still have an interest in visiting this island despite it not actually being used in ‘Skyfall‘? Hell yeah! I saw some amazing photos and stories about this place a couple of years back on some ‘haikyo’ (abandoned ruins) websites which made me want to visit it. It’s inclusion in last years Bond movie, though not real, has actually whetted my appetite for getting myself over to Nagasaki to see that city and its attractions and whilst I’m there  a visit to Gunkanjima and its window into a world that once was would be a must.

On Screen #1 – Vietnam

In the 1997 movie ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, James Bond is seen cruising around a series of limestone rock limestone karsts dramatically jutting out of the sea on the 91 minute mark. We’re led to believe its Halong Bay, Vietnam, and though it looks remarkably like

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that area in the north-east of the country it is actually Krabbi in Phuket (Thailand) which we see. Lets rewind further back to the most famous films about Vietnam; ’Apocalypse Now‘ (1979) and ‘Platoon‘ (1986) which also weren’t made in the country they were obviously set in. Luzon in the Philippines filled in on both occasions.

Good Morning, Vietnam‘ (1987) is a film consisting of more than just a catchphrase! I watched this on YouTube recently (You can see it here) and though I’m not the greatest fan of the rubber-faced funnyman Robin Williams, this is a good movie with some spectacular Vietnamese scenery…….or is it? Well, no actually as this one was filmed in Thalang in Phuket province, Thailand. In fact the Thai Parliament Houses are clearly visible on the horizon in an opening shot of a main road.

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One film which was actually filmed in Vietnam was the 1992 drama romance ‘L’Amant‘ (UK title: ‘The Lover‘) which features Ho Chi Minh City in parts. A student recommended this fairly dark film just before I went on my trip to Vietnam last month and I also managed to catch this one on YouTube (You can see it here)

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Director Jean Jacques Annaud first flew to Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 to view the original novel’s setting and was at first not happy with the state of the country but after looking at other places to film in South-East Asia he decided that only Ho Chi Minh City could truly represent the “tired museum.” It was the first Western film to be shot in ‘nam since the reunification of the country in 1975. The government provided the crew with a helicopter for use during filming but did demand that all production storyboards be checked by officials before being filmed. All of the film’s sexual scenes had to be shot in Paris as they could not be filmed on location. The film cost $30m to produce due to the importation costs of shooting in Vietnam and it took 135 days to complete filming.

My introduction to Vietnam though came from the 1980′s TV series ‘The A-Team‘ which throughout its five season run featured countless references to Vietnam with the most important one being the “crime they didn’t commit.” Colonel Morrison gave orders for the team to rob the Bank of Hanoi of $1m on the 27th of January, 1971. The mission was supposed to help bring the war to an end by cutting off the money supply to the Viet Cong but on their return to HQ the team discovered it had burned to the ground, and that Morrison was murdered by the Viet Cong. All the evidence that they were acting under orders vanished in the fire. This site has a fascinating rundown of all the ‘nam references from the 98 episodes.

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As I mentioned in an A-Team TV series article I wrote a few years ago the season four finale (Episode 23) of this cartoon-violence show was very unique in that it actually included a death and was notable for some truly serious dramatic moments with the A-Team members privately reminiscing on their Vietnam war experiences. This was the only episode ‘set’ in Vietnam but I have no doubt that it, like just about every other episode, was all filmed at Universal Studios in California. Stick a few conical hats on some Asian-American actors and you’ve got something resembling Vietnam…..seems to have often been the attitude when the country is portrayed on screen. In this episode titled ‘The Sound Of Thunder‘ major antagonist General Fulbright wants the team to find and free a group of Vietnam POWs, that supposedly includes the only officer that can clear their names. During the job Fulbright finds out that Murdock is part of the A-Team, but during their narrow escape under fire Fulbright is killed by Vietnamese troops before telling anyone else. The episode borrows heavily from ‘Apocalypse Now‘ in terms of the team lying under a fan with its sound turning into the ‘nam chopper blade whirring sound.

One more memorable TV show I recall watching which was set in Vietnam was a BBC ‘Top Gear‘ special a few years back and this time the only think faked was the scripts and plot of the three presenters as they fell into each situation. The three presenters had $1000 each to spend on a vehicle to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Halong City in 8 days. Naturally, all they could get for that kind of money were some cheap motorbikes and then hilarity and adolescent humour ensues as they made their journey. Now, I’m no car fan and don’t watch this show usually but am always keen to see the special shows.

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Other tv show’s to have featured Vietnam are ‘Man Vs Wild with Bear Grylls‘ (Season 4 Episode 3) where the chief scout himself demonstrates what it was like for soldiers who had to survive in the jungles of Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

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It’s thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s TV series’ ‘No Reservations‘ that I have developed an interest in international cuisine over the last year or so. He’s a big fan of Vietnam and did three shows (S01E04, S05E10, S06E10) there in his seven year run for the Travel Channel.

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I’m sure there have been plenty of other TV programmes and movies set or made in this beautiful country but this was just a sample and its probably Bourdain’s  shows which gave me the most realistic insight into the local culture and cuisine.

Is This Really A Statue Of ‘Oddjob’ from ‘Goldfinger’?!!

Mention Bond villains and most people probably tend to think of Blofeld (You Only Live Twice), Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me), Dr No (Dr No), Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun), Nick Nack (The Man With The Golden Gun) and Goldfinger (Goldfinger). There are many other classic bad guys who probably deserve to be on that list and and one of the strongest and most brutal (according to my 007 Top Trump cards information data!) is Oddjob who was Auric Goldfinger’s manservant in the 1964 film ‘Goldfinger‘.

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Displaying a perfect combination of strength, skill and loyalty Oddjob knew seven ways to kill a man with just one blow and as well as his unusual appearance and manners he formed the archetype for which many henchmen of the Bond film series were based on. His sharpened, steel-brimmed bowler hat became a famous and much-parodied trademark of the Bond series. Oh and he could also crush a golf ball with one hand!

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Last month a friend of mine called John walked alongside the Kanda River one day on a mission reminiscent of when I cycled the length of the river back in 2011. One of the photos which he posted on Facebook particularly fascinated me and that was what appeared to be a rather random statue commemorating Toshiyuki “Harold” Sakata who played the aforementioned ‘Oddjob’ in ‘Goldfinger‘.

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Although the character is Korean the actual actor is Japanese-American and was born in the USA where he went on to be an Olympic weightlifter and professional wrestler and then a film actor of Japanese descent.

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This bizarre statue is located roundabout Nishishinjuku 5-1-3 and is just a stone’s throw away from the temple featured in ‘Lost In Translation (2003). It is on the ground floor of a private apartment (so please respect privacy and all that) just before the second bridge if you follow the Kanda River from Yamate Dori (route 317) heading in the direction of the Sumida-gawa river where the river starts…or ends if you like.

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Is this really a statue of him? There is some kind of faded inscription on the statue but I couldn’t read it and didn’t really wanna lean too far over the tenants balcony to catch it on film for someone to translate. The sunlight shining through onto the statue didn’t help  make things any clearer. It seems like it has almost been abandoned but given that his nationality its not impossible that it could well be him. I’d sure like to think that it is, and given that the third Bond film is one of just a few 007 films to have eluded me so far on the filming locations front, this may be as close as I get to anything  ’Goldfinger‘ related!

Sakata died of liver cancer in Hawaii in 1982 and Oddjob may have quite literally died a shocking death but in this small statue he lives on in Tokyo overlooking one of Tokyo’s nicest rivers.