Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Honnoji Incident: what happened between May and June 1582

Everyone is charmed by the Honnoji Incident, that staged Mitsuhide's unexpected betrayal against his Lord Oda Nobunaga, settling the world upside down for the next 13 days, but what was happening around in those days is still obscure and cloudy for us mere Nobu fans.
In this article I'll try to figure things out and put all the protagonists in place so to provide a clearer image of those confused days.

Following the datas that I could aquire from Japonius Tyrannus, The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga and the decipheration of the Japanese Wikipedia, this is how things were once the campaign against the Takeda was over, on the month of May:
As Ieyasu, whose new acquisitions of Sunpu castle and the Totomi Province made extraordinarly zealous, was entertained by Mitsuhide and Nobunaga at Azuchi Castle on a three days feast, Hideyoshi was still busy on the Western Front, trying to defeat the Mouri of Aki.

With a strong central region under his control, Nobunaga was fancying to annex the regions of Chugoku and Shikoku next.
As Hideyoshi was struggling in Chugoku, Nobunaga wasn't really impressed by the clans of the Shikoku region, and it's said that he already split the fiefs among his retainers even before starting to attack it.
For the simple task, Nobunaga decided to use the strenght of his third son, Nobutaka, now head of the Kanbe clan in Ise region, assigning him the Sanuki Province in advance.

As for what concerned the deal with the other sons, it must be said that on March 28, Nobunaga gave his troops leave to go home after the Shinano campaign, so it's plausible to assume that Nobutada, after his magnificent tasks, was simply cooling it off at his home castle in Gifu.
There are no records of Nobukatsu's activities after the successful invasion of Iga dated 1581, so it's safe to assume that he, too, was minding his business as the head of the Kitabake family in his home castle of Matsugashima, also in the Ise Province.

Excitement sparkled when Hideyoshi asked for support during the siege of Takamatsu castle, in Bitchu Province.
Nobunaga's plans for total conquest were set in action, and as he sent Mitsuhide off to the west to help Hideyoshi, he kept on entertaining Ieyasu, suggesting him on a tour of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Sakai.
Mitsuhide obeyed and he moved to Sakamoto Castle, then travelled to a shrine on Mount Atago to look for divine inspiration and protection, and ultimately reached his home castle of Kameyama in Tanba Province to prepare for his departure to the front.
Nobunaga was really looking forward to the invasion of Chugoku and the defeat of the Mouri Clan, and before leaving for Kyoto for another moment of relax, he made sure to keep Azuchi castle well-guarded and he let out an official notice to his retainers to start adequate preparations because the campaign in the West was about to start.
As he did so, his son Nobutada joined his father to his Kyoto's trip as Nobutaka propped himself in Sakai, ready for his campaign in the Shikoku region.

Unfortunately, Mitsuhide had other plans, and instead of heading to the Bitchu province to help Hideyoshi, he set from Kameyama to Kyoto to attack Nobunaga, that at the moment was resting in Honno Temple.

On this map you can see the exact positions of the places that saw the end of the Oda's rise to power on that faithful day:
As the word of Mitsuhide's attack to Honnoji reached Nobutada, who himself was resting with his escort in Myokaku temple, the first thing that he decided to do was to join forces with his father, but as he was about to, Oda retainers tipped him off about Nobunaga's death and suggested him to try to make a stand to Nijo castle instead of getting attacked at Myokakuji, which was a defenseless temple.

So, the men of Akechi and Nobutada and his men fought an epic and tragic battle of will, deemed to end with an overpowered Nobutada committing seppuku.

What followed the confused but prompt news from Kyoto was absolute chaos.
The first who got the news were probably the people in Azuchi: the retainers and soldiers from Mino and Owari who populated the city, quickly left to return to their home countries.
The castle was left in the care of Kimura Jirozaemon, who took care of evacuating the women and children before, apparently, leaving the castle to the looting of Akechi and his men.
Similar scenes happened in Gifu castle, the residence of Nobutada, but at least here Maeda Ken'i and Hasegawa Yoji managed to secure the safety of Sanposhi, the young son of Nobutada.
Then the news reached Nobutaka, who was now stationed in Sakai, and Ieyasu, who was en route to the same city, following his Kansai tour.
As Ieyasu promptly escaped the region through Omi Province (the "escape through Iga" with the help of the ninja is pretty much a legend) to re-organize his troops, Nobutaka reached for Osaka, where he killed his cousin, Nobusumi, who was suspected a traitor for his ties with the Akechi clan via marriage.
At the same time the men of Hideyoshi caught an Akechi messanger, who was bringing the news of Nobunaga's death and offering peace to the Mouri.
Aware opf the situation, Hideyoshi arranged a truce with the Mouri and rushed to the Capital.

In the general chaos, Hideyoshi was the only one who could keep his mind cool enough and organize an effective (and legitimating!) punitive expedition against the traitor.
Thirteen days after the Incident of Honnoji, Mitsuhide will meet his end in the Battle of Yamazaki by the hands of random delinquents, but drove in the angle by the forces of Nobutaka, Katsuie and other former Oda retainers, under the command of Hideyoshi.

As for Nobukatsu, we don't have any certain information of his whereabouts during the first days of june, but according to some recent studies, he's said to have attempted an attack on Mitsuhide army by leading his troops through the province of Omi, but retired once he realized that Hideyoshi beat him to the punch, heading back to Matsugashima while waiting for further developments, that will lead the the Conference of Kiyosu--

Friday, 28 March 2014

Katen no Shiro (2009)

So, a friend of mine linked me the subbed version of this movie and I had to ignore whatever else I was doing to watch it!
This is a smart way to get through a busy schedule! --So now the only obvious thing that I can do is writing a review about it here!
So, Katen no Shiro (translated as Castle under fiery skies) is the adaptation of a novel by the same name by Yamamoto Kenichi.
The story is about how the Okada clan of carpenters and their chief, Okabe Mataemon, sacrified much of themselves so to make the wish of Oda Nobunaga come true, as the building of the Azuchi castle becomes a metaphor for the bulding of Japan.

The movie is directed by Mitsutoshi Tanaka, and the lead role of Mataemon is played by the charismatic and expressive Nishida Toshiyuki.
I was impressed by the acting of Nishida, he truly shone through the whole movie because of his peculiar features and how well he fit the role of the inspired, faithful artisan.

Oda Nobunaga was played by a quite decent Shiina Keppei, who portrayed an energic and athletic (and mustache-less!) Nobunaga in the first part of the movie, but also presented us a good rendition of the wily conqueror with no time to waste in the second part of the movie.
It wasn't a performance that made me cry and scream, but all in all one can say that it was a pretty decent portrayal of our favourite daimyo.
In the end we're also given a moment of deep thought by Nobunaga, where he realized that if building a castle was the same as building a country, he had to learn the art of patience and humility to become a proper ruler... To be honest, I had the impression that that last scene was placed there just to give us a positive rendition of Nobunaga after he drove his carpenters to pain and sacrifices so to follow his orders to finish the castle in just three years... I mean, in the end he had his castle done in three years, right? And the carpenters were happy and proud of it, right? So where was patience needed? And I don't even want to consider the deal with humility--!

The movie is constituted by three main parts. The first and last parts are about the construction of the castle, the engineering problems that the carpenters had to face, and those are the most interesting and inspiring parts of the movie.

The scenographies and photography were simply marvellous, and I was truly in awe when the castle was starting to get its shape: all the foundations, the pillars and the visualization of the structure were indeed breathtaking.

The second part of the movie, the one in the middle, was all about the misfortunes and sacrifices that Mataemon and his family had to go through to make Nobunaga's wish come true: it's a never ending sequel of unfortunate events that made you seriously wonder about the whole point of the movie.
I can understand the need to make us sympathize with the hard work of the carpenters, and how much of a big deal was constructing a castle in that period (expecially one like this!), but seriously! First, Jinbei, the shady lumberjack that befriended Mataemon, had to die because he undirectly betrayed his lord, then it's the turn of the young Ichizo, when Mataemon's wife started to cough blood I was already at my limit, but no, we needed some curse from a rock and then even the deaths of pretty Une and Kumazo--

--But Mataemon, a supreme example of "Nihon Danshi", had no time to waste with tears and melanchony: he has a castle to take care of!
And so, as everyone is mourning their deads on a stormy night, he's back to the construction site, facing the tragedy of a technical error.
But of course he couldn't do anything alone: proud of their role as builders, the whole clan is back to help out, and with the typical sense of self-sacrifice and duty of Japanese people, everyone manages to save the day and the stability of the castle.

As you could have guessed from my words, I have mixed feelings about this movie.
I loved the historical reconstruction (also if some bits were kinda naive), expecially when it came to the engineering and logistic deals; I also enjoyed to see such a strong and plausible portrayal of "Chief Okabe" and all the other workforces involved in the project (see the famous Ano masons), but I could have done without that "emotional manierism" typical of this kind of productions, where you have to have some random people dying to suggest dramaticity-- But that's the Japanese "way of the movie", and it can't be helped.

Instead of all that useless family drama, I would have enjoyed to see other tasty details: more rivalry among the involved parts, a more active role of the actual supervisors of the project (Niwa Nagahide at first, then Kimura Jirozaemon, both portrayed in the movie as the two assholes who forced the Ano guys to remove the marble rock) and I would have liked to see some collaboration with the other artists taking care of the project, like the tile-makers of Nara and the Kano atelier, but I realize that it would have been a bit too much to handle, with the risk of going off-topic.

So, yes, a nice movie indeed, that unfortunately showed some naivety from the book's plot.

Another good point is the scene that shows us the "dreamy lanscape" of the lanterns set to Azuchi and its grounds:
--What a beautiful scenery ^_^ !

Thursday, 27 March 2014

My First Meeting with Oda Nobunaga

I decided to launch this new tiny blog on mine dedicated to the historical figure of Oda Nobunaga with some original content, in the specific case, telling you about how went my first meeting with this legendary samurai.

Long story short, I have to blame a movie by Oshima Nagisa, based on a comic of Shirato Sanpei, Ninja Bugeicho (it was presented during some North-American festival under the not-so-suggestive title Band of Ninja).
The movies is peculiarly charming: I could talk about an anime, but that's pretty far from an anime, the kind Miyazaki got Westerners used to, and closer to somethings else.
Just like what Shirato drawn was pretty far from manga, and closer to something else.
Sanpei Shirato was a popular gekiga artist, where the word for gekiga was an exact contrary of manga, as it translates as "dramatic drawing".
Following his leftist ideas and the heritage from his father as a kamishibai artist, Shirato offered to the audience of the 50s and the 60s plenty of works where his considerations on the human cruelty, vanity and prevarication are still modern and worth of attention.

So, when watching the movie it's the world of the above mentioned kamishibai that comes to mind: still images that come to life thanks to the recitation of the narrator.
Looking at the original pages of the manga moving on screen is indeed a pleasure for the mind, and I encourage anyone to give a peek to this eccentric work, assuming that you have enough guts to face some serious violence!

Anyway, after I watched this movie I wasn't really impressed by Nobunaga. He was a random antagonistic character, and he wasn't enough evil to be recognized as an actual villain, go figure!
Anyway, since I promised a friend who was managing a wonderful website about Shirato Sanpei to help with the biographies of the historical characters appearing in this series, I started to investigate about Akechi Mitsuhide, Yagyû Muneyoshi, Kennyo and, of course, Oda Nobunaga.

I was immediately charmed by his biography, expecially by the years of his youth and how they contrasted with what he was going to be in the future.
The image of this rowdy, unruly boy who couldn't care less about etiquete, cliques and conventions grew up on me easily, since it's such a rare figure to find in Japanese history, expecially in such history, talking about samurai and the like.
The vapid warlord of the movie was easily overruled, and after a read on Wikipedia and a few researches on Google, I could call myself a Nobunaga fan.

This bit is another discovery itself.
It's interesting and fullfilling to see how knowledge can easily change the points of view of an individua, making them aware of the facts so to manage to develop a personal opinion.
After this realization, I decided that I'd investigate Nobunaga's life further, if not to cover every detail of his life, at least to make my image of him even clearer.