I guess I'm a 400 year old otaku.
October 6, 2009 5:16 PM   Subscribe

There's something about an Edo period setting. Recommend to me some [more] books/movies/anime/video games.

I don't even know what it is... the clothing? The artwork? Music? Social rules? General atmosphere? The romance of it all maybe? There's a certain look and feel that goes along with media set in this period and I can't put my finger on it but I love it. Maybe "Edo period" isn't even describing what enchants me... maybe the hive mind can help?

Here are things that I've liked that all seem to fall into this category:

Seven Samurai
Zatoichi (the recent-ish movie)
Muramasa Demon Blade
Samurai Champloo

I'm a huge reader (although you'd never guess it from this list), so book recommendations are particularly appreciated. If there are any other games with this kind of feel I have access to a wii, 360, ps2, and a mac.

postscript: In reading this before posting I'm wondering if what I like is that setting with a modern spin? Example: I can casually appreciate ukiyoe but I have this kozyndan print hanging in my hall because I love love love it.
posted by lilnublet to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The film Samurai Rebellion by Kobayashi stars Toshiro Mifune, who you're familiar with from Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, as the titular samurai who revolts against his master to defend his family. I could drone on and on all film student style* but suffice it to say, it's my favorite samurai film of all time. It's got a bit of a modern twist in that it sabotages one of the most important tenets of the provincial government system of the time: complete and absolute obedience to superiors. Many, many samurai movies depict a badass samurai all swording it up to defend his master. Very few depict a samurai flipping his master the bird and going on a solo killing spree against the very people he once served.

* or not
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:39 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lone Wolf and Cub movies, and Inagaki's movie version of Yoshikawa's Musashi novel.
posted by box at 5:43 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: And if you use Winamp, you might like this. And if you like Samurai Champloo, you might also enjoy Afro Samurai.
posted by box at 5:45 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Jidaigeki may help to describe this.
posted by Paragon at 6:05 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Books:

Ryonosuke Akutagawa wrote many short sotries set in that period.

You must read Tale of the Genji if you like this kind of jazz.

Musashi by Yoshikawa.

Anime: Wolf's rain
Princess Monoke
Ninja scroll (only movie)
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Lone Wolf & Cub manga is known for its detailed research into Edo-period life. And it kicks ass.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:16 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing Lone Wolf & Cub manga. It's literally epic.

You may also want to check out the novel Bridge of Birds for a fantasy take on ancient China.
posted by gnutron at 6:21 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Because I'm seeing a lot of duplicate recommendations, this thread might interest you.

Legends of the Samurai is good for actual period texts and tales. The translation is extremely readable, but I found myself bored by the lengthy military tactics discussed in part two. Lots of Lord SoandSo flanking his enemies' troops on the right bank of the Blahblahblah River for a reason you're not sure of and don't really care about. If you don't fall asleep during discussions of battles on the History Channel, you might like it better. Otherwise, check it out from the library and focus on parts one and three.

I want to second Ryonosuke Akutagawa; his writing is gorgeous and the tragedy surround his life only makes his few works more poignant.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:50 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: The only writer I can recommend on a first-hand basis is Ichiyō Higuchi who wrote Takekurabe, which is depressing as all get-out. I like that it shows the less idyllic world of peacetime Edo as Japan becomes a big contender with Western capitalists.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:58 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found Hana (aka Hana, The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai) really refreshing after watching a string of grim, bloody samurai epics. Not that there's anything wrong with grim, bloody samurai epics.
posted by gamera at 8:03 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, Lone Wolf & Cub will teach you a lot about daily life in Edo Japan, no doubt about it. I am currently reading The Bamboo Sword, and it's very good. You may also enjoy the movies it inspired, Twilight Samurai (fabulous) and The Hidden Blade (which I have yet to see).

Some more books that I have in my library but haven't (fully) read:

Hired Swords (not Edo, but will help you understand how they got there)
The Bakufu in Japanese History
Warlords Artists and Commoners
posted by adamdschneider at 8:15 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You must read Tale of the Genji if you like this kind of jazz.

Tale of the Genji was written and set in a period about 600 years before the Edo Period.

Musashi by Yoshikawa

Vagabond is a really popular manga here that might interest you. It's loosely based on Yoshikawa's novel. I bought and followed the first 15 or so volumes and the artwork is always awesome, but I found the storytelling rather too slow-paced for my taste. But YMMV.

Also, this was set in a period just before the Edo Period began (it's set in the Warring States Period, which is also a popular time period that's often depicted in fiction) but my husband and I enjoyed the Onimusha series of video games. If this period interests you, there's also the Samurai Warriors series. Akira Kurosawa has made many movies set in this time period as well, such as Ran, Kagemusha, and The Hidden Fortress.

Since I'm on a roll here, could I also mention my favorite film director of this genre, Kenji Misumi? He directed the original Zatoichi and "Lone Wolf and Cub" series at Daiei studios, and he also directed my most favorite jidaigeki movie of all time, Nemuri Kyoshiro Shobu (second movie in the series) starring my most favorite jidaigeki actor of all time, Raizo Ichikawa (and that's a terrible image of him Wikipedia is using but whatever).

I'm a huge jidaigeki fan myself (in case anyone hasn't noticed yet) so I could go on and on. So I get where you're coming from but it's hard to recommend specific works because I'm not sure what is available in the English language outside of Japan.
posted by misozaki at 8:59 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also really liked the movie gamera mentioned above. Highly recommended.
posted by misozaki at 9:05 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Man, I bring this up all the time here, but seriously, pick up "Vagabond" for the at least for the artwork alone (on preview, beaten!)

I'm personally a big fan of Zatoichi. I really like Shintaro Katsu's (incidentally, younger brother to Tomisaburo Wakayama, and producer of the Lone Wolf and Cub films) portrayal of the character. Especially the chereography of the fights. Like, if a blind dude was to be a swords man, you believe that's how he'd use a sword.

And speaking of Tomisaburo Wakayama, I also like the Hanzo the Razor movies. They're effin' ridic. It's basically like if Sam Spade and and Mike Hammer had a love child that was an Edo period anti-hero that did penis exercises (no, really). Samurai hard-boiled. And, again, incidentally, based on a manga series written by the guy who wrote the Lone Wolf and Cub series.

Maybe you're more of a jidaigeki fan rather than strictly Edo Period? For example, I bet you'd enjoy another one of Kazuo Koike's work like Lady Snowblood (comic, movie), even though it's set in the Meiji period, rather than Edo. Or maybe the Red Peony (or Lady Yakuza) series that's also set in the Meiji period. Though there are some drier, historically straight-forward, television serial type jidaigekis, so YMMV depending on the medium, writer, etc. I can see from your list it could also be a particular style of jidaigeki that appeals to you, but try out Samurai Fiction for size. It's a fun romp (and I don't use that word unironically often) that pokes a little fun at and turns the samurai cinema genre on its head a bit.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:06 PM on October 6, 2009

Oh wait, if you like Samurai Champloo, you probably would like Samurai Fiction.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:16 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Book and the movie thereof. The protagonist is a physician and also an assassin.
posted by spasm at 9:23 PM on October 6, 2009

Muramasa is the prettiest videogame I've ever played.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:43 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Looks like your bloodthirsty warrior bases are covered, so let me recommend the author Ihara Saikaku. Lots of his work is available in translation, and most of it is about cash money money and the spending thereof on courtesans. Howard Hibbett's The Floating World in Japanese Fiction is a good introduction to this genre too.

Let me also double-recommend Higuchi Ichiyo, a truly incredible writer. (I don't know much about her work translated into English though.)

Visual art-wise, that "Uprisings" print you linked to made me think that you would probably dig Yamaguchi Akira.
posted by No-sword at 1:34 AM on October 7, 2009

Best answer: OK, this is my third comment and if I'm getting too far from the topic here, I apologize. I'm completely stretching the bounds of "modern spin" here.

But you should read the short story Patriotism by Yukio Mishima. It is a very dark, well crafted novella that depicts adherance to ancient beliefs about honor and loyalty adapted to the era it was written in; it fictionalizes the February 26th Incident of 1936 (a nationalist coup d'état attempt).

And holy shit visceral (literally!) language; it's worth reading on that basis alone as a classic of modern literature.

Interesting to note that the events in the novella parallels Mishima's tragic death; he commited ritual suicide during a take-over of a Self-Defense Forces base. It was a futile event as far as gaining political power; Mishima gave a speech on a return to traditional Japanese values that was poorly recieved by the soliders who heard it, and he left a mere 3 soldiers of his private army, Tatenokai (the Sheild Society) in the base after his death. I don't think the point was to even take over the Japanese government, unless he really thought he could get the soliders to revolt. It was about using his suicide to make a statement. Interesting to think about when you read the story.

(also and not to get all Book Club Biography Hour with Juliet Banana on you but if you do read any Ryunosuke Akutagawa (how can you watch Rashomon without reading In a Grove?) read up on his life, which is also fascinating and tragic and ends in suicide)
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:32 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, Yamaguchi Akira! Why didn't I think of him earlier? His works are incredible and fits the bill perfectly. I can't seem to find an image online, but his poster for the World Cup in 2010 is awesome.
posted by misozaki at 4:09 AM on October 7, 2009

Best answer: You might consider James Clavell's Shogun. The book is a well-researched historical fiction that starts just before the Battle of Sekigahara, just when the Edo period was beginning, and the main character is based on William Adams. I'm not familiar with any of the movies/books you mentioned, but I see you have "samurai"in your tags. If you love samurai, you'll love Shogun. There's lots of description in the story about the clothing, music, social rules, and there's a romance with the main character. I wouldn't characterize the book as fine literature, but would say it's a fantastic and engrossing page-turner.
posted by Houstonian at 4:17 AM on October 7, 2009

Best answer: Also, I think maybe smoke meant the Tale of the Heike. Also pre-Edo, but full of heroes and battles and things your question suggests you would like. I understand that Helen McCullough's new-ish translation is really good.
posted by No-sword at 5:31 AM on October 7, 2009

Best answer: If you're interested in the bakumatsu - the end of Edo/beginning of Meiji - check out some books from Romulus Hillsborough.
posted by emmling at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2009

Best answer: Yeah. much as I love The Tale of Genji, it has about as much to do with Edo as Chaucer does with Queen Elizabeth I. Still, it's an amazing read, although full of way more perfume contests and murky love affairs and complex poetry than daring-do. There may not be any daring-do, actually, just some ill-advised liaisons, but never mind....

Anyway, I second the recommendation for Sinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps by Hillsborough (the "some" link from emmling, above). They were a much-romanticized paramilitary death squad set up more or less by the last Shogunate tor try and keep peace in Kyoto. It is a fascinating story, mixing insane real-life (or as real-life as slightly after the fact historical recollections can get) action with complicated politics and historical figures which I think anyone will find thought-provoking (basically, there are no heroes, although there are lots of heroics). It also makes clear some of the class distinctions and other social and political issues of the era that seem to get glossed over.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2009

Response by poster: woohoo! Thanks mefi - I now have a sizable list to work my way through this cold rainy winter. Apologies for the wall of light green, but each one of you offered excellent suggestions!

Off to the library I go~
posted by lilnublet at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2009

Tales of Old Japan is a classic work of folklore written in the 19th century. It's also on Project Gutenberg.

Also, the works of Lafcadio Hearn, the original Japanphile.
posted by plep at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2009

If you like manga, Blade of the Immortal has a pretty engrossing mix of warrior shenanigans and troubled characters. The pencil art is also amazing - very detailed and often gorgeous and/or badass. (Occasionally I've caught myself thinking, "Wow, that's drawn so well!" while looking at a depiction of someone getting sliced into pieces.)
posted by cobwebberies at 8:34 PM on October 7, 2009

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