‘The Wolverine’ draws from other Hollywood hits set in Japan

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

Director James Mangold has claimed Japanese film influences on his Marvel comic adaptation “The Wolverine,” including Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film “Kumonosu-jo (The Throne of Blood).” But the film, in which Hugh Jackman’s immortal Wolverine character comes to Japan, falls in love with a local beauty and fights local baddies, has much more in common with similarly themed Hollywood movies set in this country.

One is “Blood on the Sun,” the 1945 thriller starring James Cagney as an intrepid reporter for the fictitious “Tokyo Chronicle” who unmasks a secret Japanese plot for world domination. In the ensuing struggles with his Japanese adversaries (white actors in yellow-face makeup) Cagney demonstrates some slick judo moves, despite being in his mid-40s when he made the film. (Whether he was an inspiration to the seriously buff Jackman, now 44, is not known.)

Among others are the many set-in-Japan Hollywood films that feature an East-West romance, with the inevitably male star usually saying sayonara to his Japanese inamorata by the final fade-out. A standout is “Shogun,” the 1980 smash-hit U.S. mini-series, later released theatrically in a shortened version in Japan, about the adventures of a shipwrecked English seaman (Richard Chamberlain) in 17th-century Japan. Yoko Shimada won international acclaim as the hero’s English-speaking love interest, though her samurai-class character was derided by Japanese critics for an unseemly naked romp in the bath with her foreign lover.

Action-wise, “The Wolverine” also has many Hollywood precedents. Its suicidal gangsters, rushing in human waves against the superpowered hero and his allies, are reminiscent of the hoods in Sydney Pollack’s 1975 “The Yakuza,” who keep advancing with drawn swords on Robert Mitchum’s pistol-wielding hero even as they are being shot down like carnival targets. But Mangold’s film shares more DNA with “You Only Live Twice,” the 1967 James Bond installment set in Japan, from the hairbreadth high-speed action sequences (though Bond, played by Sean Connery, lacked Jackman’s CGI assists) to the fighting ninja, the hero’s doughty female ally (the bikini-clad Kissy Suzuki in the Bond film, the red-haired Yukio in “The Wolverine”) and the climatic assault on the villain’s isolated and impregnable lair.

There is, however, one difference. Whereas Bond finally faces off against the villain’s hulking human bodyguard, Wolverine finds himself confronting a giant metal robot warrior.

Fans of the 1966 “Daimajin” trilogy, starring a towering statue in samurai armor that comes fearsomely to life, will instantly see the resemblance. It’s not Kurosawa, but as an actual Japanese film reference, it’s close enough.

  • RUaFriend

    I love Shogun. I have the 5 disk DVD set and highly recommend it for anyone who didn’t see it when it first aired in 1980. It was revolutionary and took big risks in how it was made, not the least of which is that it was mostly Japanese! We learn everything along with the main character which is truly brilliant film making and ahead of its time. It’s also based on a true story. All the perfomances are first rate and John Rhys-Davies has said in interviews that he credits Shogun for giving him his stellar movie career. I could go on but just buy or rent the 5 disk DVD set to experience it for yourself! DO NOT buy the 2 hour condensed movie-it’s a travesty and a badly cut up caricature of this beautiful mini-series.