The Secrets of Hattori Hanzo and Quentin Tarantino
Hattori Hanzo was a real person who lived in feudal Japan during the 16th century, and today he is often portrayed as a modern-day figure. He is a well-recognized person in literature and Japanese manga, where he is often a fierce warrior or wise leader. In reality, Hanzo was a military man and part of many battles.
The tv show Leverage and Thundercats both had weapons named after Hattori Hanzo and there have been other media depicting Hattori Hanzo as a great weaponsmith. I’m not sure where this came from, but the real Hattori Hanzo was a spear carrier, not a sword-wielding ninja. I guess Hanzo’s reputation comes from Sonny Chiba and other 60s, 70s, or 80s TV shows. Then there’s movies who use Hattori Hanzo to sell their schlock.
Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (1972) is a movie so bad that reinforces the Hanzo ninja-sword-guy stereotype, but I’ve never been able to watch the whole thing, since it’s so bad, graphic, and weird. Hanzo is a incorruptible feudal cop, who forces himself on a woman until she likes it. I didn’t get it. I’ll never get it. I actually didn’t know it, but this is a fairly popular underground movie, one which I’ll never finish because it is weird, gross, and weird.
Moving up from the bargain basement, Isao Natsuyagi actually played a rogue ninja that was patterned after Hattori Hanzo in the 1978 movie, Shogun’s Samurai. This is a much better movie than Hanzo the Razor, if that was any consolation at all. It isn’t, by the way.
So where did Quentin Tarantino get his inspiration for his own Hattori Hanzo character? I think the character in Kill Bill may be a reference to the ninja movies and TV shows from the 70s and 80s that Tarantino grew up on. In an interview from 2003, he stated specifically that he loved Kage no Gundan and patterned the character after the actor Sonny Chiba on the show. This is how Tarantino knew Chiba and why he approached him later for a role in Kill Bill.
The character in Kill Bill is long since retired, not the fierce warrior that starred in the 1970s. Sonny Chiba played the definitive version of Hattori Hanzo on Kage no Gundan and it is interesting to look back at this rendition. Sonny Chiba must have been honored to play his character all over again, albeit in a different way than on Kage no Gundan.
Kage no Gundan (Shadow Warriors) is a period piece Japanese ninja TV show from 1980. I watched one of the episodes to see if it was any good. It is. Season three is said to be the best of the Shadow Warriors series, but they are all very similar. Sonny Chiba is the highlight, with his brutal martial acts style. I am going to check out more of these episodes and bring the content here to this blog. I watched episode 16 of season 2 and it was filled with politics, fighting, ninjas in disguise, and a whole lot more. More than enough for me to have a good time.