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Turnbulls Samurai - the Last Warrior

 
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Dash101
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2009 12:57 pm    Post subject: Turnbulls Samurai - the Last Warrior Reply with quote
http://www.amazon.com/Samurai-Warrior-Honor-Revenge-Documentary/dp/B0000VD0XI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1245538527&sr=8-1

Is anyone at all familiar with this documentary? Reviews?
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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
It came out in the wake of the publicity kicked up by "The Last Samurai". I recall it being no better or worse than comparable History Channel samurai programs-it buys into the whole 'glorious, honorable, seppuku-committing samurai' and 'wily ninja' view of Japan. Turnbull is...well, Turnbull, relating Edo legends with gusto. He's just a small part of it, though-he's not the focus of the program.
Just for fun, I'll think I'll get it out and rewatch it (right after rewatching the new 'Friday The 13th).
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 21, 2009 2:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thanks for the input. I figure I'll pick it up as well. At the price, why not.
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 1:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Actually, it looks like I sold the program short. It’s pretty good-much better than History Channel's samurai documentaries. Its quality lies somewhere between that and PBS’s ‘Secret Empires’ special. The majority of it is extended interviews (played over stills from Turnbull’s collection and film footage from ‘Shogun’ and ‘Ran’) with Turnbull and vaguely credited ‘author/historian’ Dave Lowry.

I’d never heard of Lowry, and after watching the program checked him out online. Turns out he’s not so much of an historian-he’s a columnist for ‘Black Belt’ magazine who’s written extensively on Japanese martial arts and their practice in the west, along with books on sushi and other lightweight topics. He even wrote an autobiography-“Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai”. Oh, please. Further investigation showed I have a book from Lowry (“Moving Towards Stillness”) in my collection that some well-meaning co-worker gave me for Christmas years ago, and it was cringe-inducing. He is to Modern Sammyrai what Stephen Hayes is to Ninjer. Seems like Lowry is a disaster in the making, right? But to give the guy credit, he really did his homework. Instead of spouting the normal ‘martial artist historian’ crap, he points out Bushido is largely a construct of the early 20th century and that seppuku was a pretty rare occurrence-not at all as common as a lot of books try to make it. He didn’t make any claims that called out “BS”. He makes a few mistakes-for example, stating that only samurai could carry swords, that the sword became the samurai's primary weapon once fighting on foot came into widespread practice, and that Osaka was the first castle built with defending against firearms in mind. Mostly nit-picking stuff like that-he was solid.

For that matter, Turnbull was right on the mark as well, delivering a pretty straightforward history of Japan from ancient times and calling legends for what they are (particularly the rarity of the whole 'name announcing to find a worthy opponent' thing). Turnbull does from time to time indulge himself in some eye rolling moments (such as claiming that ‘ninja’ literally translates into ‘invisible man’-guess that sounds more dramatic than ‘concealed/hidden man’ or ‘man of stealth’) and is quite vague in several spots (such as claiming that Nobunaga gave a rifle to every one of his men he could trust at Nagashino). He even trots out the old 'samurai vs knight' comparison. He also states (although it could have been Lowry-I forget) that the Japanese Emperor's line of descent is unbroken-which, from what I understand, is questionable because of all the different lines and substitutions. Still, a good job, and he carries the program.

Overall, the program is a decent introduction to pre-modern Japanese history for a neophyte. There’s not much there that would be new to most people on the board. The opening/closing narration does set up the ‘glory of honor and loyalty’ schtick, but is mercifully short. The section on ninja is abbreviated as well, and Turnbull sort of fudges his way through it. The show also begins to unravel towards the end when attempts are made to show how the samurai spirit lives on in modern Japan. The only real issue I had with the show was the voice over/image mismatches it featured. For example, while stating that the spirits of slain warriors are sometimes worshipped as kami, it shows a cluster of Jizo statues. While talking about Saigo Takamori, a statue of Date Masamune is shown and later a print of a battle in the Sengoku. While Turnbull waxes about Tokugawa Ieyasu, they show a statue of Kusunoki Masashige. Fujimi Castle (of 'now it's demolished-now it's not' fame) is shown while the siege of Osaka is being discussed. And on and on...while these images are never specifically identified as the subject being discussed, they would surely leave that impression in the mind of most viewers.
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I think I speak for quite a few people when I say I'm REALLY looking forward to "Turnbull's Samurai - The Last Book".
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Dash101
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 3:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Say what you will about Turnbulls work, but if nothing else he certainly has helped make the subject of Japanese History more accessable to people who may not have otherwise been interested or familiar with the subject.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
kitsuno wrote:
I think I speak for quite a few people when I say I'm REALLY looking forward to "Turnbull's Samurai - The Last Book".


ROTFLMAO Too funny. I do agree with Dash's sentiments though. Turnbull has done a lot to expose the subject to the West.

Sometimes his works can be pretty good. I just finished his "Strongholds of the Samurai" and I found it to be very informative.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
After Turnbull's recent act of Goryokaku piracy, I'm inclined to go with Kitsuno Wink .
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Dash101 wrote:
Say what you will about Turnbulls work, but if nothing else he certainly has helped make the subject of Japanese History more accessable to people who may not have otherwise been interested or familiar with the subject.


Plagiarism is, after all, a great way to spread knowledge around.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Some thoughts on Lowry. Comparing him to Ninjers and Stephen Hayes is unfair and off the mark. Lowry is a legitimate practioner of two legitimate living martial traditions, Shinkage-ryu Heiho and Shinto Muso-ryu Jojutsu. The sub-title "The Education of an American Samurai" was the work of his publisher, over Lowry's objections, and something he has decried in the past.

Lowry's writing is interesting in that it goes far beyond pop history/philosophy, and yet falls short of academic rigor. His research seems rigorous, but somewhat unfocused. From a linguistic point of view, I will find wonderfully full, well-researched essays on a particular aspect of Japanese culture that will yet contain a one or two glaring linguistic mistakes. I often wonder, how'd he get so much right and then that wrong? AFAICT, he is a voracious reader of English language sources, but doesn't have the Japanese to delve into primary sources.

In a sense, he's kind of a precursor to all this here: a highly motivated, widely-reading amateur who doesn't quite pass the highest rigors of academic writing, but who nonetheless serves as a clearinghouse of sorts for a lot of good information. Just take him with a grain or so of salt.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 11:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
After Turnbull's recent act of Goryokaku piracy...
What is that?
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Josh Reyer wrote:
Some thoughts on Lowry. Comparing him to Ninjers and Stephen Hayes is unfair and off the mark.


Not from what I read in 'Moving Towards Stillness'. I am glad to hear that the 'American Samurai' title wasn't his idea.

As I said, he did do a surprisingly good job on this documentary.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
My review:

I got the DVD in the mail and watched it tonight. The first thing I need to say about this documentary is that I was rather disapointed with the production values of this documentary. The dependancy on footage of films such as Ran and the lack-luster narration made it simply dull to watch. But of course thats not the critical element here.

The information this documentary shares is probably too much for a lamen and does not add much to those who have at least a general understanding of Japanese history.

It's interesting in a basic level and I guess was worth the $10 purchase. It's something I think that some of us might want to watch with a loved one (girlfriend/wife) if you want to share your love of the topic.

Quite frankly Tatsunoshi's review says it all. (read up).
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