Looking back on my life, I realize there were two major influences that have really defined me. The first was Japan, experienced through early anime like Kimba the White Lion and Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato but later more broadly when I started experiencing Japanese films, literature, and other aspects of the country. The second was Star Wars, which my 10-year-old self fell in love with and never stopped. As I re-watch season 1 of The Mandalorian in preparation to start season 2, I was reflecting on the many ways that Star Wars and Japan are so closely bound, they’re basically inseparable.
Writing a post about how the two biggest influences in my life have been #StarWars and Japan, but of course these are largely the same thing, since so many themes from Star Wars take inspiration from Japanese film and vice-versa.
Anime is Gintama. pic.twitter.com/6N0yILZqRd
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) December 14, 2020
Six Influences in Star Wars That Came from Japan
Tons of Star Wars Names Come from Japanese
If you know Star Wars, you already basically know a bunch of Japanese words, including:
- Jedi. From jidai-geki, literally, a period drama set in the Edo Period.
- Obi-wan. An obi is a belt for a kimono.
- Count Dooku. The word for poison in Japanese is doku.
- Darth Vader. Based on Date Masamune, below.
- Takodana. The planet gets its name from Takadanobaba, a train station near Waseda University.
- I have no proof, but my wife and I are convinced that after the success of Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas visited Japan where he met famed movie critic Nagaharu Yodogawa, famous for signing off his film commentary by saying, “Sayonara, sayonara…sayonara!” We’re convinced both the man’s shriveled appearance and his name contributed to the character of Yoda.
Darth Vader is Based on Japan’s most Badass Samurai Lord
If you ever visit Sendai, a bustling city in northern Japan, you’ll likely visit a museum and see Darth Vader’s helmet…well it’s the same, minus the large metal slash on the front. Date Masamune had one of the most interesting lives of any historical figure in Japan. Born to the Date clan in Northern Japan, he lost sight in one eye to smallpox, and supposedly plucked the useless organ from its socket when someone questioned his ability to rule…then had his brother killed to remove another possible challenger. When his father was kidnapped, he waged a bloody war of revenge and had a great knack for picking the right side to fight on during Japan’s Warring States period. He was very open to Western ideas and built Japan’s first ocean-going ship that sent a diplomatic mission to Mexico, Spain and Rome. He was also a fan of exotic foods, and Sendai is famous as a “gourmet city” to this day as a result.
Costumes Inspired by Japan
If you wondered why Queen Amidala wears so many costumes in Star Wars Episode 1, it’s basically a thing called iro-naoshi, the tradition of a bride excusing herself at her wedding and re-emerging, again and again, each time wearing a more extravagant kimono or Western-style wedding dress. The number of times a couple can afford to re-dress the bride is a show of how prosperous they expect their marriage to be.
R2-D2 and C-3P0 are Based on Manzai Comedy
One of the oldest forms of Japanese theatre is Noh, which features on-stage performances with beautiful costumes and masks, but which can be slow and potentially sleep-inducing to the audience. (Ulysses S. Grant visited Japan in 1879 and became a fan of the traditional Noh performances, which caused them to experience a revival inside Japan.) To alleviate any boredom, an intermission would feature two comedians who entertain the audience with witty back-and-forth called Kyogen. This comedy evolved into modern manzai, featuring a slow-witted man to set up a joke (boke) and his partner who comedically “butts in” with sharp retorts (tsukkomi), which describes our favorite Star Wars droids perfectly, as well as many of the anime shows we enjoy today. Today manzai is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and many of Japan’s most famous people including Beat Takeshi got their start there.
Influence of Star Wars on Anime Creators
Star Wars was immediately embraced by Japan, and Yoshiyuki Tomino cites the film as a big influence for his work, including the beam sabers in Mobile Suit Gundam. Shunya Yamashita brought his awesome character designs to Star Wars for some illustrations that were turned into figures a few years ago.
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Thanks for reading my post about the close connection to Star Wars, Japan, and anime. Got any questions about Japan, or topics you’d like us to write about? Post below, or tell us on Twitter!
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