>Samurai fantasies

>I just watched the DVD of Ran, Akira Kurosawa’s epic reimagining of King Lear. What’s that got to do with genre fiction, I hear you cry? Well, it occured to me (between marvelling at Kurosawa’s crystal-clear storytelling, epic staging, beautifully defined characters and jaw-dropping art direction and cinematography) that for the average western audience, the Orient is pretty close to being an fantasy environment. No coincidence, then, that so many western science fiction and fantasy movies have plundered Asian culture for their production design. You can see Samurai motifs in Lucas’s stormtrooper costumes, for instance, and even the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. And Joss Whedon’s American/Chinese cultural mash-up lends his Firefly universe just the right touch of otherworldly charm.

Watching Ran, I found myself enjoying it on the same level I might enjoy a good fantasy story. The parallels are many: it’s set in a simplified feudal society of warlords, where family and honour are top of the agenda. Archetypal characters struggle against the whims of fate in a stylised world of castles and hostile landscapes. There are big battles between huge armies waving colour-coded banners to denote their allegiance. On top of that, because I’m a simple boy from Somerset, medieval Japan looks simultaneously foreign and familiar, and as seductive as all hell.

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