October 25, 2020

Kurosawa’s keys in ‘Ghost of Tsushima’, the game that introduces you to a samurai movie


Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential filmmakers in contemporary entertainment. Without Yojimbo I would not have been born For a bunch of dollars, without The hidden fortress the plot of Star Wars: a new hope it would be different, even animated films like Bugs they owe their narrative to The 7 samurai. The influence of the Japanese teacher is such that it reaches the world of video games.

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Ghost of Tsushima, the last title of the study Sucker Punch (Infamous) for PlayStation 4, it puts us in the shoes of a samurai named Jin Sakai who tries to face the invasion of the Mongol army in 1274. To do this they have created an open world based on the island of Tsushima (located in the strait from Korea and Japan) who drinks from different literary and cinematographic sources, but there is an influence that flies throughout the adventure: Kurosawa.

In fact, there is a filter called “Kurosawa mode” that modifies the image and sound of the game to resemble what it would have if it were a film by the Japanese director. Jason Connell and Nate fox, directors of the title, told in an interview with Entertainment Weekly They studied aspects of classic tapes such as contrast, sound, celluloid grain, and most importantly, they had to ask the Kurosawa heirs for permission to use their name in the game.

But, in addition to this visual aspect, what other traits do they take from the director of Yojimbo? We gathered 5 keys to Kurosawa that, more or less obviously, have their replica in Ghost of Tsushima.

The weather as a state of mind

The last battle of The 7 samurai it is the dirtiest of all. It is the one in which the bandits slam into the small village after several days stalking its fortresses. In addition to the obvious physical and mental exhaustion of the warriors, the fight unfolds while it rains seas and everything ends up becoming a quagmire.

It is not something free: the weather in Kurosawa is a reflection of emotions. That is the reason why the fog bathes many of the scenes of Blood throne, thus showing the confusion of General Washizu (Toshirō Mifune) and his doubts about whether to betray his companions in exchange for becoming lord of the Cobweb Forest Fortress.

In the Sucker Punch title, the weather doesn’t go unnoticed either. The wind is such a fundamental element that it even serves to guide the character across the stage. Furthermore, many of the final boss battles, just like in the Kurosawa cinema, take place during adverse weather situations. The hostile fills the screen, something that is evident even in the character’s own clothes, more muddy as the confrontations continue.

The disaster and the fire

Sometimes the tragedy is not announced by the weather, but by another element: fire. The flames are for Kurosawa the embodiment of evil, something that is seen in the scene of The 7 samurai where the mill, outside the protective barriers of the warriors, begins to burn with a family inside. It is then that Kikuchiyo, seeing the disaster from the trench, runs to the area to save the only survivor: a small child who, like him, will have to grow up as an orphan.

Fire is also one of the triggers of the main conflict in Yojimbo. The ronin played by Toshirō Mifune tricks one of the two opposing sides in the village into believing that it was his rivals, and not he, who released a woman they had locked up. Their response was to retaliate in the worst way imaginable: setting fire to the silk business of their opponents.

Ghost of Tsushima it also uses fire to represent the conflict in feudal Japan, where victory in wars resulted in the beheading of the enemy or the appropriation of their lands. That is why the plumes of smoke visible from the sky are often indicators that there is some conflict in the area, such as a village that needs to be freed from the rule of the Mongol empire.

Hiding may be the best option

The code of ethics of the bushi (armed knight in Japanese) was to fight fairly and honorably, without cheating. That is why each time they failed in their work they assumed their responsibility by doing the harakiri: they considered that removing their entrails was a reflection of their deepest and most sincere intentions, as a sign of asking forgiveness for unintentional mistakes.

However, the warriors’ code was not always so tight. Sometimes the best option was to avoid face-to-face confrontation and escape through the back door, just what happens in Yojimbo when the protagonist is captured and tortured by one of the clans of the village. The ronin is forced to hide under the floor of the houses and even in a coffin to escape without being seen.

In the game, we start out as a samurai indoctrinated by his uncle in the clan code. He is a faithful believer in direct fighting, but after the Mongol invasion, he finds that his training is no longer fully effective against an enemy that uses new tactics. Jin Sakai, therefore, ends up immersed in those techniques that at first he considered so unworthy: to finish off his rivals in silence and from behind.

Rice and sake, luxury food

In famine, food is a luxury good. The 7 samurai It starts with a group of bandits who want to steal barley from a village, but when they arrive they find they have nothing and decide to leave to return once the harvest has matured. However, a peasant who was in hiding finds out about the conversation and, after commenting on it to the rest of the town, they decide that it is best to hire seven warriors to stop the thieves. And since the locals had no money, they chose to pay them differently: with food. Every day they were guaranteed a bowl of white rice, a luxury food compared to the millet that those who did not have many resources used to eat.

As the character of Kikuchiyo in the film points out, sometimes, before the looting of samurai and bandits, the peasants had to hide salt, beans or sake under the floor of their houses or in secret barns. Extortion was not uncommon in a feudal system marked by blood lineage.

In Ghost of Tsushima can also be checked. In fact, one of his missions is to sneak into a fortress infiltrated into the cart of a sake vendor, since this is the only one that has permission to cross the enemy defense without risks. Some secondary plots also have the purpose of recovering the looted provisions from the peasants. One of them, who seems to drink directly from the Kurosawa film, introduces us to a character who is posing as a samurai to receive food from the villagers despite the fact that he is the son of a peasant, as is the case with Kikuchiyo.

Bows, a lethal weapon for cowards

On the battlefield, samurai also used firearms, but they considered that the tools that killed at a distance were typical of cowards and were only used by samurai of lower rank, the so-called ashigarus. The lords only used the katana and the spear.

However, the power of remote projectiles or arrows was lethal, especially in the late 15th century when Japan began to import firearms from Europe. It is what can be verified at the end of Blood throne and of what is probably one of the most recognized scenes in Kurosawa: the one in which General Washizu is assassinated by his own army with a lethal rain of arrows.

In the game created by Sucker Punch archers are one of the most annoying enemies, especially when they are arranged in structures from which they are unreachable. It is the strategy used by the lords to protect themselves from assaults: to build ever larger and impregnable buildings. Osaka Castle (Japan) is an example of this military architecture. In 1614 it was attacked by an army of 200,000 men equipped with cannons and, despite this, they failed to destroy the walls or penetrate the fortress.

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