Bushido Blade (1981)

 

 

 

Director:     Shusei Kotani.

Starring:     Richard Boone (Commodore Matthew Perry), Toshir Mifune (Shogun's Commander), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Midshipman Robin Burr), Frank Converse (Captain Lawrence Hawk), William Ross (Perry's Aide), Bin Amatsu (Baron Zen), Sonny Chiba (Prince Ido), Iwae Arai (Guide), James Earl Jones (The Prisoner), Laura Gemser (Tomoe), Mako (Enjiro), Kin Omae (Sumo), Tetsuro Tamba (Lord Yamato), Mike Starr (Bos'n Cave Johnson).

 a drama set around 1854, US Naval Commodore Matthew Perry opens up Japan to trade with the West

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

February 18, 1854, Far East Squadron.  Commodore Matthew Perry and the fleet has been sent to Japan to open diplomatic relations.  In Japan fanatics oppose the opening.  A group of fanatics attack a high official and his escort and manage to cut off the head of the high official.

On board ship Commodore Perry puts on a minstrel show for the Japanese, who don't know what to make of white men in black face.  The very young and young looking Midshipman Robin Burr is on the ship.  His mother only let him join the navy because her brother, the physically huge Bos'n Cave Johnson, promised to look after him. The Shogun's commander expresses his Shogun's gratitude for the introduction of so many innovations, like the improved rifle, the telegram, and a working scale-model of a steam locomotive.  Commodore Perry seems overly proud of the innovations.  The Shogun's commander tells him that there is one thing the president of the United States might like.  Perry is skeptical that the Japanese could have anything good enough for the president.  It is a beautifully decorated bushido sword, which is regarded with spiritual reverence by the Japanese.   Perry virtually scoffs at the idea of the gift of a sword.  He goes on to say:  "Tomorrow Japan will join America in the modern world." 

Someone forcefully steals the bushido blade.  The man was sent from the Mita clan sent by Lord Yamato.  The Lord is the leader of the opponents of the opening of Japan.  The Shogun's commander says that they stole the sword in order to embarrass the Shogun.  What's worse, the Shogun cannot let his representative sign the treaty until they get the sword back. Perry wants that treaty signed.  And to achieve this he wants to send the marines into Japan to get it from Lord Yamato.  But this is strictly forbidden.  There are to be no foreigners in the countryside.  The man who will be in charge of retrieving the sword is Prince Ido.  The Japanese do not want the Americans to intervene.  "It is a matter of samurai honor." 

Commodore Perry is upset.  At the end of April they must leave Japan.  He feels he must interfere.  He tells Captain Hawk to take two navy men with him (one of them Midshipman Burr) and shadow Prince Ido.  The Captain chooses Bos'n Cave Johnson as the other man.  The three men learn that the Prince left two hours ago, so they have to hurry to catch up with him.  The team picks up a Japanese guide, but the man leads them into a trap.  They are ambushed and Burr is grabbed.  They throw him from the bride into the river.  Downstream a woman named Yuki, the daughter of a Japanese fisherman, fishes him out of the river and pulls him into the boat.  In the ambush the Captain shoots one of the attackers and gets away.  Later he uses his rifle to save Prince Ido from an attacking group of samurai.  Johnson gets away but is later grabbed by a group of samurai.  He is thrown into an ad-hoc jail where they keep the foreigners.  Most of the men were shipwrecked along the Japanese coast.  The spokesman for the group says that he had been on a Yankee whaler. 

Burr is taken to the local village and placed into bed.  When he wakes he finds himself shaking from the cold of having been in the river.  The beautiful daughter takes off her kimono to get into bed with the midshipman in order to warm him.  The Prince and Hawk are shot at by some Yamato riflemen and the Prince is hit.  Hawk is able to kill the gunman who shot the Prince.  The Bosun learns that he is only some eighteen miles from the Yamato castle.  When the Japanese force the reluctant foreign prisoners to take a bath (they fear it is unhealthy), the men start a fight so that Johnson can escape.  He uses his bulk to bust through the thin walls of the bath area.  Hawk gets the bullet out of the Prince's shoulder.  The daughter's father Enjiro speaks English to Midshipman Burr.  He had been stranded with some English speakers and picked up the rudiments of the language.  Burr explains that he is a member of the ship Pohawtan.  He asks Enjiro if he can take him to the Yamato castle.  Although Enjiro worries a bit about the possible negative repercussions of this, he agrees to take him. 

A beautiful half Japanese-half western woman named Tomoe arrives to see Prince Ido.  The Prince is her cousin.  She tells Hawk that she is a samurai.  Burr and Yuki play in the river.  Johnson walks into a Japanese festival of some kind and then runs into some sumo wrestlers.  He wrestles the biggest sumo wrestler and wins.  Enjiro is in the crowd of spectators and sees the westerner.  He returns to his village to tell Burr.  Tomoe tells Hawk that they cannot wait any longer.  She knows a way they can sneak into the Yamato castle.  Before leaving, Prince Ido tells Hawk that he saved his life.  He gives him his samurai sword that will permit his being treated as an equal among the samurai.  Hawk thanks him.  They make their way to the castle.  Hawk and Tomoe are captured.  Since Hawk is a samurai he is taken to the meeting of the Yamato samurai.  Here he demands the return of the bushido blade.  But to get the sword, Hawk has to fight the champion of the Yamato swordsmen. 

The Bosun runs into Enjiro and then the two men run into Prince Ido.  The three men go to the castle for Hawk.  At the castle Hawk and Tomoe come together and have sex.  Then Hawk has to fight the champ.  The champ is a little too tough for Hawk and so Tomoe intervenes from the sidelines cutting off the champ's right arm at the upper part of the forearm. They are able to get away because of a small earth quake.  As the loser, the champ has his head cut off.  Ido, Bosun and Enjiro show up and are able to rescue Hawk and Tomoe.  They retreat to the light house followed by a group of Yamato's samurai.  At the light house the group has to fight the troops.  Prince Ido kills a great many of the troops, but he is stabbed and then again and again and he dies after the troops are forced to retreat.  Taking advantage of the lull, Burr with the bushido sword, accompanied by Enjiro, is sent down the cliff to the coast to get away and carry the sword to Perry. 

Lord Yamato shows up and leads his troops in another attack on the light house.   Tomoe fights with Yamato and throws her sword through the neck of the Lord.  The troops then retreat for awhile. 

Without the bushido sword, the Shogun's commander signs the treaty (knowing that this would mean his own death).  The Shogun's commander is saved, however, with the arrival of Midshipman Burr and the bushido blade.  

The remaining troops have to fight to the last man to avenge Lord Yamato.  In the fight, the defenders set the wooden lighthouse on fire and then topple it onto the troops.

Hawk, Tomoe and the Bosun watch from the light house as the American fleet sails away from Japan without them. 

 

Not a very good movie.  It is mostly an action film with just a little bit of history.  It was interesting listening to the discussion between Commodore Perry and the Shogun's commander about the various innovations introduced into Japan by the contact with the westerners.  This part is spoiled a bit by Richard Boone overplaying the role of the Commodore and making the naval man look like a complete jerk as he makes fun of the less advanced Japanese.  Another interesting feature was the almost disbelief of the Americans with the severity of the military code of the samurai.  (A code that would help the Japanese commit countless war crimes in World War II against both Asians and westerners.)  There had been so many centuries of constant fighting in Japan that the military became way too powerful  and created an indecent moral code.  An overly strict military code for a whole society is no way to run a country.  The atomic bomb would finally put an end to this for the Japanese. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

  


Historical Background:

1852  --  Perry with his fleet embark from Norfolk, Virginia to head for Japan to establish a trade treaty with that nation. He commanded the USS Powhatan.

1853 (July 8)  --  the American fleet drops anchor near Edo (modern Tokyo).  The ships were the Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga and Susquehanna

Representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate tell the Americans to sail to Nagasaki.  Here there was allowed limited trade with the Netherlands.  It was the only place permitting any trade at all with the west.

Perry refuses the suggestion.  He demands permission to present the Shogun with a letter from President Millard Fillmore.  Threatening to use his superior force, the Japanese government had to let Perry come ashore.

1853 (July 14)  --  Perry landed at Kurihama (modern Yokosuka).  He presented the letter to the Shogun's delegate and then sailed for China saying he will return for a reply.

1854  --  Perry returns to Japan with twice the number of ships.  He was presented with a treaty that contained almost all the demands in Fillmore's letter.

1854 (March 31)  --  Perry signs the Convention of Kanagawa.  He signs and departs.  He made a big mistake for he thought he was dealing with imperial representatives, but was not.  The treaty provided for:  peace and friendship between Japan and the US; opening of two Japanese ports (at Shimoda and Hakodate) to American ships; help and protection for American ships and crew wrecked off the Japanese coast; and permission for American ships to pull into other Japanese ports when they needed supplies, coal, water and other provisions.

After signing the treaty, the Japanese hosted a feast for the Americans.  After the presenting of gifts, Perry was taken into a inner room, where the Japanese gave him two sets of Japanese coins, three matchlocks and two swords.  The Americans were actually impressed by the politeness of their hosts.  They also thought the Japanese culture was a rich one. 


bushido  =  a word used in the 17th century meaning code of the warrior.  A very ancient code, it was a code of honor and conduct of the Japanese nobility.  The key components of the code were loyalty to a superior, personal honor, little concern with business and profit, austerity, self-sacrifice, and indifference to pain. In the Tokugawa period it was taught in state schools for government service preparation.  From after the Meiji restoration (1868) it provided the the basis for the belief that the Japanese emperor was divine.  (This was forcefully ended by the Americans in 1945 after World War II.)
 

 

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