Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Oda Nobunaga (1989)

I know that many of you were waiting for this review!
That's it, it's finally the turn of the BS-TBS TV special "Oda Nobunaga", featuring Ken Watanabe as our Demon Lord!
The two episodes were directed by Sadao Nakajima, who's mostly popular for his yakuza movie, based on an original script by Koji Takada.

I decided to review this series only now because, I wanted to introduce you to "The Lucky Adventurer" of 1959 first, so to provide you a source of comparison for the two movies.
Despite the obvious differences, in fact, I found a lot of similarities between the two movies, if just for the acting of Watanabe, that seems to take a lot from Nakamura's.
The Nobunaga of Watanabe is one of those rough, "meaty" interpretations that I like a lot.
If not as massive as Eguchi, Watanabe offers a nice presence and a strong gestuality that make his performance sanguine enough.

I found intriguing how the young Nobunaga is portrayed with some "restrained" expressions during the most emotive scenes, an attempt to show how Nobunaga used to "act" for the most of his young days, and the "sly" satisfaction that he shows in his older days, when he's at the apex of his power, being entertained by travellers from all around the world in Azuchi castle.

I investigated the curriculum of Watanabe, and again I found the theatrical experience: right after graduation he entered the troupe En in Tokyo, where he met his first great success.
The role that he played in "Shimodani Mannencho Monogatari", set in the ill-famed quarter of Ueno of the postwar period, was that of Yoichi, a lively boy who cared for a dangerous life. Following this experience he was scouted to take part in TV roles, his most famous performance being that of Date Masamune from the taiga drama "Dokuganryū Masamune" of 1987-- Since then the role of the samurai stuck to him, as we noticed in his most recent "The Last Samurai", where he played an intense Katsumoto-dono.

Contrary to many actors that played Nobunaga, Watanabe managed to mantain a certain coherence of interpretation, making his Nobunaga able of fresh and "naive" expressions even in his mature years.

--Let's proceed with the other actors starring in the movies.
First one to get a mention is Sakagami Shinobu, who played the role of Nobuyuki, Nobunaga's rebellious little brother:

Portrayed as a weak-willed guy, easily swayed by his vassals, this Nobuyuki offered some surprises.
In this story, he didn't betray Nobunaga, but was forced to do so by the treacherous vassal Hayashi Mimasaka, who took him hostage in Kiyosu as Nobunaga was up to raise hell-- In the end Nobuyuki committed seppuku, trying to rebel to the villainous plots of Mimasaka.
It's interesting to note that the one alerting Nobunaga on the matter was a penitent Katsuie, who presented himself in front of Nobu, showing his penance with a bald head for his treacherous actions.

Next is Natori Yuuko, someone who finally offered a charming, entertaining portrait of Nouhime:
Not just a pretty girl in love with her hubby, but mostly a strong-willed, determined "daughter of a Viper" who can show some grit without turning into the parody of a suffragette.
She is definitely my favourite Nouhime ever.

Dosan was played by Matsukata Hiroki:
It was an entertaining act, and it reminded me a lot of the Dosan of "The Lucky Adventurer", if just for his close and mostly comical relationship with his vassal--

Hideyoshi was played by a fun Wakayama Tomisaburo:
A merchant and street artist that Nobunaga got to meet in his first visit to Mino, he'll get to enter Nobunaga's army only later.
His relationship with Nene is greatly explored in the movies, and he's one of the few characters who enjoyed a good deal of screentime.

Ieyasu is Sanada Hiroyuki:
He's first shown as a brilliant, determined warrior part of the Imagawa armies.
I loved how he replied quickly confirming hid friendship with Nobunaga to Yoshimoto XD
He said some smart stuff to Nobunaga during the movie, one of the most charming that of great men tending to become the greater nuissance when Nobunaga was telling him about Nagamasa, here played by a sly Nezu Jinpachi:
This sure was an ambiguous portrait of Nagamasa!
He's depicted since the beginning in a "threesome" of interests with both Asakura's and shogun Ashikaga, in the end he doesn't hesitate to betray Nobunaga and was expecting Oichi to die with him too!
Poor Nobu didn't enjoy any of this.

Some interesting bits about this series, then!
In the story is implied that Dota Gozen (Tsukasa Yoko) after the Death of Nobuyuki decided to become a nun and to retire in the temple of Kasugai together with Oichi (Kanou Miyuki).
Oichi would later be called back home by Nobunaga to marry Nagamasa.

The first experience of Nobunaga with luxuries and tea stuff wasn't with the shogun in Kyoto, but in Mino, with the misterious vassal of Dousan Ami "The Oni", that would be revealed to be Koyo (Toake Yukiyo), the lover of Dousan and a sophisticated lady that Nobunaga would befriend his whole life:

It's thanks to Koyo that Nobunaga would get to see western furnitures, to learn that the world is spherical and from this fateful meeting he would get also the "Tenka Fubu" motto-- It was inscripted on an ancient teacup saying to have belonged to the first Emperor of China... Nobunaga would get the name "Gifu" exactly from that teacup for this reason. --How convenient!
Later on Koyo would leave Japan to travel across the world and become a merchant of Sakai, one of those who used to be Nobunaga's intimate friends in his Azuchi times.

The Atsumori!!
Here Nobunaga danced it two times. Before the battle of Okehazama, as usual, and at the end of the movie, in Azuchi, as a comment to Koyo's words about the need of a thousand years to tell him all the stories that she gathered during her travels around the world:

The two dances are significatively different, one danced with the energy and rage of youth, giving a frustrating yet determined feeling, the second danced with a certain resignation, or better, "awareness" to one's limits despite one's desires...

Another interesting bit is that of Nobunaga as a father:
As a ladies' man and an energic fellow, Nobunaga's huge mass of sons and daughters (and concubines!) is mentioned quite frequently in the movies.
The scene above refers to the birth of Nobutaka, who received the vague name of Sanshichi (the date of his birth, March 7) because yeah, Nobunaga was quite earnest in fathering boys, but also pretty much "indifferent" to them, unless for the fun bits.

Worth a mention is the Western armour of Nobunaga!
A must of every movie that seems to have very little historical proof behind it, in this movie it's presented a gift from Hideyoshi, who was looking for employment within Nobu's ranks:

Nobunaga asked him back in his merchant days to find him an armour that could protect him from bullets: a few years later, Hideyoshi managed to buy a cuirass from a Portuguese, after a series of economical adventures that made Nobunaga assume that Hideyoshi would make a better merchant rather than warrior--!

A very entertaining movie, probably one of my favourite by now, and a sturdy, affectionate portrayal of Nobunaga.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Oda Nobunaga in Anime pt.I: Time Travellers and Genderswitch

It's a bit weird for me, a die-hard otaku to talk about Nobunaga in popular culture without mentioning the anime and manga about him.
Truth is, I rarely get interested by his anime renditions.
For the sake of completion, though, I decided to include some short reviews on the portraits of Nobunaga from variour recent anime that featured him in a more or less licit way.

Since I noticed a series of "macro genres" for these series, I decided to review all of them together, pointing out differences, strong points and flaws of each series in a concise yet accurate way.
This first post is dedicated to the macro genres of "Time Travellers" and "Genderswitch", as the two themes are usually presented intertwined, and most importantly I don't want to talk too much about them, as two separate posts would be too work, mm'kay?

Ok then, let's try to follow some kind of chronological order, and let's start with the Genderswitch series, or those series where Nobunaga is portrayed as a woman.
Obviously aimed to a male audience and relished with all kind of sexual innuendos and fanservices, the plots of these anime and their general value is blatantly low, but some traits can be quite entertaining.
First on this list is the series "Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox" (released in the USA as "Battle Girls").
It started its airing on April 2011 as an anime, but its "origin" is that of the pachinko game "Sengoku Otome" of 2009, followed by a manga version ("Sengoku Otome: Hyakka Ryōran") on the same year.
This series feature both generes, as the protagonist, the modern-day student Hide Yoshino, gloriously nicknamed "Hideyoshi", found herself transported in the Japan of Sengoku era, where she got to meet Nobunaga, in a female version, with her crew.

The Nobunaga of this universe is an authoritative, strong woman that gives off a wild vibe.
She's in a rush to gather from rival (female) daimyo pieces of a legendary armor that would grant her the absolute power on the country. In the end Nobunaga would learn that there's more to ruling than authority and violence, and nothing can be done without the support of her loved ones and the people. I must say that despite the simplicistic portrayal, I got to enjoy this version of Nobunaga and this series.
Besides Nobunaga's huge boobs, my favourite feature about this series was the yuri vibe: the only male character is a dog, that acts like a mascotte, and the relationships are all woman-on-woman, which is a nice twist, as these kind of productions usually offer a harem storyline.
It's still an ecchi series destined to men, though, so don't expect any deep character development or analysis, also if some bits are really surprising and intriguing (Mitsuhide, who has a huge crush on Nobunaga, decided to betray her out of jealousy for Hideyoshi, who easily turned into one of Nobunaga's favourite vassals despite her clumsiness).

Exactly the next year, on April 2012, we got another Sengoku anime series following the same recipe, "Sengoku Collection".
This was based on a social card videogame of 2010, focusing on collecting the cards portraying the Sengoku daimyo in their very moe version.
The anime adaptation followed the same pattern: but here is the daimyo themselves who have to collect each other's "treasures" so to manage to get back in their time.
PLOT TWIST! Here in fact, is the Sengoku girls who are scattered around modern-day Japan, and they have to find a way to survive the unknown era besides trying to get back in their age.

The Nobunaga of this series is a pain in the ass.
Characterized as your standard tsundere loli, she's immediately linked to your useless protagonist guy, doomed to become her love interest.
I couldn't watch this series in its entirety, so my review may be lacking but-- NO, just NO.

Despite my disgust, anime producers didn't give up on the idea, so on the July of the same year, "Oda Nobuna no Yabou" was aired on the Japanese TV.
This time the original source for this anime is a blatantly ecchi light novel nonetheless. Originally published on the magazine GA Bunko on 2009, it was followed by a manga adaptation on magazine Comp Ace, a monthly release focusing on bishojo games and relative manga adaptations.
The story is an obvious tribute to the videogame "Nobunaga no Yabou" (the strategy game "Nobunaga's Ambition"). The protagonist of this story, Sagara Yoshiharu, in fact, is a huge fan and an expert of the videogame.
When he found himself in the Sengoku era and he's forced to take the place of Hideyoshi, who died to protect him, his knowledge of the videogame would prove useful to protect his new lord, the pretty yet ambitious Oda Nobuna, from her fated destiny.

This is another harem story, with Sagara being the love interest of Nobuna, but still managing to flirt and seduce all the other female characters featured in the series, faithful to the fame of Hideyoshi as a playboy.
This is another series that I dropped almost instantly because I can't really stand that harem crap anymore, but I must admit that it offered an intriguing plot and an enjoyable portrait of Nobunaga, despite the obvious limits of such a rendition.
In the end Nobuna is nothing but a cute girl who longs for love and peace, but is constricted by her clan's needs and a sense of justice that forces her to pursue war as an attempt to reach for peace to cover a role that doesn't really suit her... The general impression was quite loathful due to the overbearing ecchi crap anyway.

Now we have to make a semantic jump and say goodbye to the series featuring the genderswitch element to focus on the genuine stories focusing on the Time Travel theme.
I have to make an exception and talk about "Nobunaga no Chef", a manga that started its serialization on March 2011, but was granted of a drama TV rendition instead of an anime version on 2013.
I can't really review this excellent series as at the moment I'm stuck to the first volumes of the manga due to a sinful lack of scanlations (and I'm not very motivated to start watching the TV drama, as I heard of some changes from the original story that I didn't like at all), but a mention is due.
The main theme of this series is cooking and Sengoku cuisine, but there's also the theme of the time traveller, as the protagonist, Ken, is a chef from the modern age, who's also affected by amnesia, just to make things more interesting.
The idea of investigating through the Sengoku era "through its stomach" is a bit forced indeed, but still original and fun.
The Nobunaga of this series is quite decent and accurate, definitely a proper rendition of our Demon Lord, and despite the peculiarity of the plot one can't really negate its historical accuracy and value.
We're familiar to the idea of tea ceremony as a diplomatic mean, it's not so weird to assume that food had pretty much a similar mean at the time (and in modern ages too!).

Next is one of the most recent productions on the theme, "Nobunaga Concerto".
Based on a manga that started its serialization in 2009, the anime was recently aired on the summer of the current year. The series was then converted to the TV drama format on the autumn of this same year again, making one assume that it was quite well-received by the audience.
This time the protagonist, clueless student Saburo, is not just sent to the Sengoku Era, but he's also forced to take the place of the real Nobunaga, a weak-willed, sensitive and cultured daimyo who can't deal with the duties of his clan, and shoved your typical good-for-nothing modern boy in his place.

As the portrayal of Nobunaga as a random idiot can be a bit unnerving, sure there are some intriguing and original bits that make this series quite enjoyable: the mention of the "mens of the field" and their role in the Battle of Okehazama, a peaceful portrait of Nouhime (completely changed in the drama version) and the idea of the "original" Nobunaga getting back in the picture as Akechi Mitsuhide, to aid the new Nobunaga and support his vision of the world.
I found quite fun the fact that Saburo knows nothing of Japanese history, his least favourite subject at school-- So his every action in the Sengoku era is pretty much "genuine" as he doesn't really have any idea of the "details". This series also supports the idea of Hideyoshi as a "villain" entering Nobunaga's service to disrupt his clan (he's a shinobi from Imagawa clan), but developing mixed feelings about him as the story progresses...

Another variation on the theme that is probably worth a mention is a manga spin-off of the above mentioned "Nobunaga no Yabou" videogame, "Nobunaga no Yabou ~Rin-ne~".
Sponsored and supervised by KOEI, it started its serialization in 2013, and is currently available in English for free on the website of Manga Samurai Style.
In this version, Nobunaga himself is the time traveller, and he's given the chance to face his life all over again after the facts of Honnoji in an attempt to "fix things".
Besides the wonderful artworks, I found the idea quite intriguing, as it's a sharp reference to the very role of the videogamer: as the player is given another (and another, another--) chance in the game to conquer Japan, the same goes for Nobunaga.
It's interesting to note that here Nobunaga is aware of "how things went", so he tried his best to fix things, trying to take different "routes" to avoid the tragedies that pinpointed his life, but ending up with facing new kind of troubles... Just as a modern gamer, rather than a warlord.

As a Nobunaga fan and a shrewd anime consumer, this interpretation of Nobunaga, expecially the insistence of the time travel factor, the idea that Nobunaga needed "a help" of some kind from the people of modern times, leaves me a bit wonderous.
It makes me wonder about the modern Japaneses, rather than the old ones.
Truth is, modern people still make a point of taking inspiration from "the old sources" as a genuine and wise treasure of sort to grow up culturally and intellectually, think of how seriously stuff like "The Art of War" of Sun Zu or "The Book of Five Rings" of Musashi are taken, yet we still have the arrogance to assume that people from the old times could learn something "from us", who are pretty much their degeneration.
I wouldn't say that I'm against progress, I'm just implying that I find quite improbable that Nobunaga could get any help from any of us, as the exact opposite is quite obvious too.
Thinking of how things are going in "Rinne"-- I'd say that just a totally brand new level of trouble would arise.
--So, that's the reason behind the genderswitch, maybe? Is it a way "to estrange" themselves from the "real deal", and turn it into a mere matter of a "damsel in distress"..? If possible, that's even more cowardly.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

"Nobunaga Omotenashi Gozen": the "last supper of Nobunaga" as a modern touristic attraction

It's becoming a habit by now, but for the compilation of this post I have to thank the always useful Teap-dono, who provided the required help with the translation of the food names and involved recipes.

This said, if you happen in Azuchi, you'd probably consider to take a peek to the museum area a few chilometers away from the ruins of the castle.
In there a must-see place is the Nobunaga no Yakata, a little building where you can see the reproduction of the tenshu of Azuchi Castle.
Among the various little permanent exhibitions of the place a fancy one is that dedicated to the banquet held in Azuchi on the May of 1581 in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu's visit.

Pictures coming from this blog.
Akechi Mitsuhide took care of the huge task and came with a lavish banquet that struck awe in all the attendants because it sported dishes from the various provinces conquered by Nobunaga, stressing the power of his lord.
The menu exhibited also unusual food like whale or spiral shellfish, but it must be noted that most of these weren't for consuption but hosted a decorative meaning, in this case, connected with Nobunaga's power, the reason for such an abundance and oddity.

Apparently the detailed description of the meals that Nobunaga offered to his visitors (besides Ieyasu, Nobunaga held a sumptuous banquet for one of his favourite guy from Sakai, the merchant and tea master Tsuda Sougyu) can be found in the book "Nobunaga no Omotenashi" by Ego Michiko, where a whole chapter is dedicated to the subject.
This is not the only book that Ego-sensei dedicated to the subject, in 1999 she explored the image of retired daimyo as gourmet in the book "Inkyodaimyo no Edokurashi".
A good alternative for the English speaker could be "Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan" by Eric Rath (partially consultable over Google Books), that mentions the researches of Ego-sensei and many others in its investigation.

Anyway, long story short, the touristic apparatum of those places related to Nobunaga got set in motion, and they jumped on the chance to brush up on these Sengoku menu to entertain and delight visitors and tourists.

The first chance to come up with a modern interpretation of the "Nobunaga Omotenashi" was the celebration of the 400 years of Nagoya's enstablishment (2010).
In this occasion the Nagoya Omotenashi Bushotai was enstablished, and many exhibitions and events popped around the city.

One of this event involved the release of peculiar ekiben, touristic bento sold at train stations as a way to promote local cooking, dedicated to the three unifiers of Japan.
The "Last supper of Nobunaga" was taken as example by the Nagoya Daruma shop in Nagoya station, that presented the lunchbox Nobunaga Zen:

Pictures of the bento come from this blog.
The "rice part" of this bento is the onigiri grilled in miso sauce. Not part of the original banquet, this dish was supposed to be popular during hunting session, one of the most beloved activities of Nobunaga.
Among the original features of the meal in Azuchi are mentioned the kabayaki of eel, slices of dried squid dressed in sauce, yakitori chicken (the original recipe involved the use of pheasant, though!), slices of roasted trout (a specialty of Omi province), plus a variety of mysterious roots and veggies that only a Japanese may find appetible.
This bento proved to be quite popular, and I could find evidences of it being sold even after the celebrations of Nagoya.

But the event that brought "Nobunaga's Hospitality" under attention was probably the initiative of seven between ryokan and hotels in Gifu city on the spring of 2012, that presented a full menu under the label Nobunaga Omotenashi Gozen, following the original recipes of the era with a touch of kaiseki:

Pictures of the event coming from this and this blog.
The event involved an explanation of the various dishes from the chefs and a degustation.
This time efforts were made to present the original dishes eaten by Nobunaga and Ieyasu in the most accurate way possible, so many now common seasonings were banned: honey, miso and sake were used in place of sugar or soy sauce.

Besides the dishes mentioned in the bento, here one could face some true culinary challenges: the futoni, for example, a reconstituted sea cucumber cooked in a sauce of beans, or the makisurume, a squid boiled with its tentacles rolled inside, that once slices said to remember the Oda crest, but also steamed abalone or the more inviting shigitsubo, eggplants filled with duck meat-- Just a little part of the "100 dishes" that constituted the original menu thought by Mitsuhide.
During the period of the event, the dishes could be tried in every hotel of the cooperative, the final day being host by the Gifu Grand Hotel.

It looked like a once-in-life event, but later on the Ushounoie Sugiyama Inn, profitting of its privileged location on Nagara river and by Gifu castle, made of the Nobunaga Omotenashi Gozen a main event to be featured on October, during the ukai season so to let the visitors to "feel like a daimyo", according to the words of the Chef Yasuo Mori:

Pictures coming from this article on the Asahi Shimbun, main source for this post, after all!
The privileged meal comes at its due price: the cheaper plan comes for 19000 yen, and the most expensive plan is 27000 yen. The difference in price is due to the room's view as it faces Nagara river and Mount Kinka-- Sure Ieyasu had it easier!