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Kikuchiyo's Robe
March 1, 2007 6:51 PM   Subscribe

What was the actual predominant color of the robe worn by Toshiro Mifune in his role as wanna-be samurai Kikuchiyo for the black-and-white Kurosawa film Seven Samurai? The robe is light in tone as appears to be decorated with a pattern based on feathers or slender leaves.

I ask becasue I have a thesis about the design of the character. I expect the robe to be predominantly one highly specific, quite unusual, color.
posted by mwhybark to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
light tones in black and white predominantly turn out red or orange. You can take a color bar and bring it to monochrome in photoshop to see for yourself.
posted by parmanparman at 7:33 PM on March 1, 2007


I'm not sure if this will help anyone find the answer, but here's a large black and white image of the characters in robes.

Here's a color version of the movie poster, you might be able to use it to determine what the color of the other robes are.
posted by aristan at 8:09 PM on March 1, 2007


Thanks, aristan. The poster is colorized from images in the film, alas. I'm kinda hoping a) the robe has survived in someone's collection or b) there was a set photog shooting at least some publicity in color.
posted by mwhybark at 8:34 PM on March 1, 2007


Assuming Kurosawa went for historical accuracy in his costuming, the textile dyes available in 16th century Japan were limited to a handful of colors. The history of Japanese textiles is also a relatively common topic of scholarly discussion, perhaps something there will help you (and look at lot better in your references than "someone on AskMeFi").
posted by jamaro at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2007


Why don't you called AMPAS and see if they have any color stills from the production tahat are available for academic purposes. They touted it at the Oscars.
posted by parmanparman at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2007


Wikipedia indicates that the film's costumer, Kohei Ezaki, was up for best costume design in the 1956 Oscar race. The ever-handy j-list offers collectible figurines - but in fully-accurate monochrome which strangely includes the director!
posted by mwhybark at 8:45 PM on March 1, 2007


jamaro, this is not for an academic paper. However, Ezaki was apparently also the 'folklore consultant' on the film, so presumably authenticity, within the context of the legend the filmmakers were inventing, would have been important. Happily, your link includes the color I suspect. The kimonos shown are not like the briefer robe the character wears, though.

Given Kikuchiyo's non-samurai background, the robe, like the sword, is probably booty of some sort, making it possible that the costume - like the sword itself, exaggerated by comparison with the rest of the weaponry - might deviate from a strictly historicist approach.

Parman, interesting idea. Finding a film crewmember has also crossed my mind.
posted by mwhybark at 9:03 PM on March 1, 2007


The new Criterion collection edition of the movie has a lot of extra material, which sounds like it includes publicity stills. I don't get a sense of whether any of those images would be in color, though. If you have Netflix or an academic library that might have the new Criterion release, worth checking out. (Cool question.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:12 PM on March 1, 2007


Hm. I guess I'll come clean. I found one more concordant point, but it's a bit of a stretch.

The character is unmistakably designed and shot in certain sequences to resemble a monkey, from his leaping excitability to his scrmbling ascent of several obstacles, giant sword extended behind like a tail. When he ventures into the wood and acquires his faceplate, the resemblance to cartoon shorthand for simians is fairly clear.

My bet is that the robe must be yellow or orange. If so, this would mean that the character is possibly a reference to the Monkey King, or Songoku, as I gather he's named in far Nippon (as is a popular anime hero). Apparently, the era the film's set in is known as Sengoku .

Kikuchiyo is clearly the character at the center of the film and the spokesman for the era, if you will. It's a bit of a stretch to tie the two together based on a similarity of phonemes, but I do see plenty of supporting evidence in addition.

I need that robe, Jim!
posted by mwhybark at 9:27 PM on March 1, 2007


LobsterMitten, that's the edition I've been watching. Haven't drilled down to that level, but the packaging is tastefully monochrome, suggesting no color assets.
posted by mwhybark at 9:28 PM on March 1, 2007


You could try using Recolored just to play around with stills of Mifune's garment, try to figure out what looks natural.
posted by chlorus at 9:44 PM on March 1, 2007


Kurosawa knew that the film would be released in black and white. Even if he did intend Kikuchiyo to be an intertext of the Monkey King, it would be pretty useless to give him a yellow/orange robe when that particular reference would be completely invisible to the audience. So don't be disappointed if the production stills contradict your theory.
posted by stammer at 10:16 PM on March 1, 2007


Assuming Kurosawa went for historical accuracy in his costuming, the textile dyes available in 16th century Japan were limited to a handful of colors.

In case anyone is being picky, that movie is placed in the early 17th Century, sometime after the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate. (That's why so many ronin are running around, and why there are muskets.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:16 PM on March 1, 2007


Kurosawa knew that the film would be released in black and white.

This pretty much gets to the point. While I'm sure that the patterns for the robes were authentic, I'll give you dollars to donuts that the colors were chosen for how well they would contrast. Kurosawa knew his medium quite intimately, and would not have insisted on authentic colors unless they happened to translate to B&W well.
posted by tkolar at 11:06 PM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


TKolar's point is well taken, and it was not uncommon in the era of B/W for directors to use colors in odd ways.

I saw an example of that from the 30's one time that was pretty amazing. An actor was wearing highly-colored makup, such that it looked entirely differently under blue light and under red light. Under one the face looked normal, and under the other it looked monstrous. The director faded out one color light and faded in the other, maintaining a constant total brightness for his B/W camera, and it looked like the person transformed -- without using any kind of post-production special effect.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:04 AM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


My bet is that the robe must be yellow or orange. If so, this would mean that the character is possibly a reference to the Monkey King, or Songoku, as I gather he's named in far Nippon (as is a popular anime hero). Apparently, the era the film's set in is known as Sengoku .

Songoku (the u is long) is the Japanese way of reading the Chinese characters of the Monkey King's name 孫悟空。It has nothing to do with sengoku-jidai (the u is short) 戦国時代, which is an era in Japanese history when the country was divided into many provinces and all the leaders were basically at each other's throats.

I like your idea of comparing the The Monkey King and Seven Samurai and would be very interested in reading your finished article, but like you say yourself, the phonemes don't work in this case.
posted by misozaki at 12:25 AM on March 2, 2007


...the u is short...

Do you mean "the u is brief"? I didn't think that there was any "short u" (i.e. a schwa, the vowel sound in the word "run") in Japanese.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:38 AM on March 2, 2007


Sorry about my Wikipedia link, didn't notice you'd also linked to it! One additinal note: in the Japanese Wikipedia page for Seven Samurai, it says that although basically the historical details are accurate, including costuming, the battle scenes and strategical details were made up by Kurosawa and his crew because there was not enough information to go on. Which suggests that there's a possibility that tkolar is right and Kurosawa might not have strictly adhered to the limitations of the dye colors of the time.

On preview, Steven, yes, brief. Not like "run." Sorry for the confusing expression.
posted by misozaki at 12:43 AM on March 2, 2007


Shot in the dark: I checked my Nihongo Daijiten, which has an index of traditional Japanese textile patterns, for the pattern shown in the black-and-white photo Aristan links to. It appears to be a pattern called "yafusuma," a variation on another pattern called "yabane," which is typically a kasuri (ikat)-dyed pattern, in this index is shown as dark blue on very pale blue.

Now, a few Japanese patterns were only ever seen in specific color combinations. Others could be represented in a variety of colors. The writeup on yafusuma doesn't make clear whether this one of the former or latter. Blue-on-white or blue-on-blue have a folksy quality in Japan, which would fit with the characters modest background.
posted by adamrice at 6:58 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


mwhybark: I think your Monkey King idea is interesting and I'll be curious to see how your quest turns out, but I really wouldn't lean on (or even mention except in passing) the phonetic similarity between Son Gokū and sengoku(-jidai)—I'm pretty sure it's more striking to you as a foreigner than it would be to a Japanese, for whom the phonemics are not that similar and the written representations utterly different. His monkey-like characteristics are clear enough without using a random coincidence as evidence.

I didn't think that there was any "short u" (i.e. a schwa, the vowel sound in the word "run") in Japanese.

Here I was nodding approvingly at your previous contributions to the thread, and you had to go and blow it. SCDB, please don't try to be authoritative about language. "Short u" means a u sound that is short in duration, and the term has meaning only in contrast to a long u; an example of the latter in Japanese is the final vowel of Songoku, which would more accurately be written Son Gokū (with a macron over the u). In modern Japanese, it tends to be pronounced with hardly any lip-rounding, and after a voiceless consonant it practically disappears (thus sukiyaki sounds like "s'kiyaki"). This has nothing to do with English in any case, but the u of run is not a schwa (which is the unstressed vowel heard at the end of sofa) but a central vowel.

Sorry for the confusing expression.

The expression was not confusing at all; "short u" is what it is called. SCDB was confused.
posted by languagehat at 7:41 AM on March 2, 2007


Damn, that blue-on-pale-blue does sound pretty plausible. I would submit that in all likelihood the color details of the setting and costume were considered, even if Kurosawa knew the film was set for B&W from the outset.

The production was very elaborate, as we can see, and the decision to go color vs. B&W would have been at least partially a budgetary one. The planning and development process would have been in parallel, not in sequence, and thus the costume development (and everything else) would not have taken film stock as a strong determinant until the character designs were well underway.

Additionally, given Kurosawa's later use of thematic color in pretty much every color film he shot and his preference for a detailed set that works in the actors' favor by providing them with a rich setting, I doubt that the color choices even for black and white would have been wholly arbitrary.

That said, blue-and-white looks to be carrying the day in my mind since the orange / yellow idea would lose impact, and the blue / white style upholds the impulse to realism.

On a tangent, is the sword historicist? Was there a style of hyperelongated katana?
posted by mwhybark at 8:15 AM on March 2, 2007


His weapon is a naginata.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:54 AM on March 2, 2007


In case anyone is being picky, that movie is placed in the early 17th Century

Nope. 16th Century, in the Sengoku period. The choice to place SS in that time period was an intentional choice by Kurosawa.

The kimonos shown are not like the briefer robe the character wears, though.

Definitely not, the ones pictured are ceremonial robes for a much higher social class than one occupied by Kikuchiyo. But the limitations on the textile dyes would remain the same. Again, only when assuming Kurosawa went with total authenticity--I tend to think he went more with 'what will look good on b/w film'.
posted by jamaro at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2007


His weapon is a naginata.

I don't think so. There's no pole arm. I'm pretty sure it's just a big sword; an ōdachi.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2007


I have the Criterion Collection edition at home, just received it for Xmas.

I can look at the stills tonight and see what I can find for you.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:27 PM on March 2, 2007


Gah, I just read that you have the Criterion edition as well. Never mind then.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:30 PM on March 2, 2007


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