Ashura /The Eyes of Ashura Castle is a good movie to pick up for general attitude. I switch between thinking of the main character as a disillusioned Crane warrior (and he uses some fast strike attacks) or a pretty good Ikoma. Given that he wears a powder blue crane outfit in the last series of fighting scenes, I suppose it would be appropriate to say he's a Crane who for a time slummed it out in Ikoma theater before getting his badass back on.
Anyway, this is a movie adaptation of a popular kabuki play series, with the main character played by a fairly famous kabuki stage actor. And yes, that stage performance going on in the background is a real series of plays and THAT CHARACTER is a character archetype in a famous series of Kabuki plays that you will no doubt recognize better as Jiraiya (complete with attack monster frog). Yes, the audience totally cheers him on for off-stage smexings/maybe-non-con when the enemy troupes are closing in, and yes, he does totally wipe out a bunch of those people because they delay him from said smexy time. Now you know where the writer of Naruto gets it from. It wasn't just crazy shit out of his own head... it was crazy shit out of classic Japanese theater. >.>;
ANYWAY. This has some crappy special effects, but is a really, really good example of both Japanese humor and how a warrior with a devil-may-care attitude might act once he's gotten tired of it all. The character itself was an elite demon-hunting warrior who puts down his sword and leaves it all behind after killing a demon child. He goes into reclusion from his warrior days and becomes a stage actor (He's not really hiding - his director at one point says "You brilliant bastard, why did you hide it from me?" And he replies "I didn't hide anything, you didn't ask, ass."). He's adored by the ladies, and pretty much gets whatever he wants in his leisure time, when he meets quite by accident this lady who seems oddly familiar...
This used to be on Netflix, but seems to be "enjoying" a period of sometimes available and sometimes not. I suppose because it has demons and gouls and the like, it is marked as horror. You should note, however, that kabuki is all about COMEDY. And usually raunchy comedy. ANY line that you stop and go "wait, did he mean..." ... the answer is yes, he meant what ever raunchy, comedic humor thing you drug up from the gutter. Take this movie as a comedy, and you'll laugh your ass off.
If you happen to get the DVD version, check your subtitle options. There's a 'plain' translation and one that is a 'literal' translation.
This also straight up won several awards and is done by the same director who did Departures (a comedy that somehow ends up with most people bawling at the end).
Another good movie to check out is Onmyoji and/or Onmyoji II. This is a good reference more for how the Japanese portray a benevolent, or at least non-raging, kitsune. You also could dig this up for some look at ritual types and court clothing. This is a fictional tale based on real-life people recorded in history.
These movies focus partially around Abe no Seimei and a friendship he has with a fellow called Hiromasa, who is a famous musician of the royal line that abdicated his right to ascension when he reached adulthood. As I note elsewhere on the site, the historical Seimei was considered a great Onmyoji (demon banisher/sorcerer/whatever) and was also often thought to be part kitsune. While these movies really only brush on the actual notion that he might be part kitsune by mentioning it as a rumor in the first movie and some joking snipes between two of the characters in the second movie ("goodness, as the rumors say, you do look like a white fox" Abe: "Goodness, as the rumors say so, does that mean I should say you look like a demon?"), they really have done a fascinating job of actually portraying a lot of hints that leaves the watcher going, "yeah, he's at least part fox."
Everything from Seimei's rather wild looking courtyard to his tendency towards jokes, drinking, and his general flippant attitude are indicators. Just as telling is his easy manner when he decides to make friends with Hiromasa, seemingly entirely on a whim. Also interesting to note is that while Seimei himself doesn't much care if the capital is eaten by demons, he sighs at Hiromasa and goes about helping to save everyone when Hiromasa pouts at/asks him. This is, of course, only after pointing out that he's doing it because the city in ruins would make Hiromasa unhappy, *not* because he cares about the people dying. Once he's agreed to do a task, he's very focused on the task at hand, even when that task likely means his death.
Other references are brief asides, like the reference in the first movie to his age. Aone, "It's been a long time." Seimei, "Hm, yes. What has it been, about thirty years?" (Hiromasa gets a surprised look because thirty's pretty dang old in 900 AD) Aone, "Oh, about that long. You've certainly cleaned up." Another little hint is Seimei's ability to keep up in drinking with Hiromasa, who was a legendary heavy drinker. While the concept of Kitsune drinking partners is not particularly Japanese - it seems to be more common on the mainland and apparently the foxes didn't do it as much in Japan - the kitsune as a drinker is pretty common idea. Sake is, after all, made out of rice.
The actor for Seimei, Mansai Nomura, has a long history of theatre performances in classic Japanese arts and is famous enough to have a straight up terrifying fan club. He works well with the cameras, despite being more familiar with stage work, and he pulls off the sly look very well even when annoyed because the bad guy managed to catch him (or maybe just annoyed that his hair is messed up, it's hard to tell). He's also probably the best reference I've ever seen for how court people would actually move and fight in those robes. :p
You can pay attention to Nomura's acting for both a glimpse at the impish nature of a half kitsune, or simply for his natural ease in wearing the classic robes. I personally have never seen anyone else actually wear those robes like they are actually every day clothing, and his comfort is far more obvious than even the other court actors in the movie (who also do a fantastic job, actually). The outtakes of the second film show him trying to teach others how to move in the robes, which is funny, too.
I won't lie- to the American viewer, the relationship between Hiromasa and Seimei will probably raise a few eyebrows, especially if you were one of those people who thought the two hobbits had something going on in LotR. This is in no way mitigated in the second movie when Seimei ends up dressing in a woman's ceremonial dance outfit. It is more a culture difference than anything else (bromances are strong in Japanese stories) but I do want to give warning to anyone who might be ...eh... sensitive. Though, if you are that sensitive, you shouldn't be thinking about role-playing a kitsune. XD In general, the line between close friendship and what we'd consider love seem to be pretty blurred for them. This is, incidentally, partially because of how the kitsune are often portrayed as very, very loyal once they make friends.
Though, uh. This is also relevant. Sorry/notsorry? *cough*
Also distracting are the really bad special effects in the first movie. I think the movie company was a bit embarrassed by the constant dogging of this particular flaw in the first movie, because they quite clearly spent a great deal more effort on the special effects of the second movie. While still not what we'd call the normal movie theater special effects (and these were both big screen releases in Japan), the second one still has some rather good effects.
The first Onmyoji is viewable on Youtube, I think. There's a topless woman with strategic long hair placement in the first movie, which apparently gives it a required 18 or older viewing age. :p There's side boobage in the second, as well, but again, nothing that would have you covering a kid's eyes. There's a few lady gasping pants that are more eyebrow raising in both movies.
back to L5R kitsune main page