Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Those Beloved Traitors

The "fleeting world" of strategical alliances during the Sengoku era is well-worth an ukiyo-e post with a bit of historical nuances.
Even someone like Nobunaga, regularly painted as a snappy old fox when it came to the matter, was quite aware of how frail the loyalty of allies, retainers and commoners was and how hard it was to keep everything in check.

But despite this basic awareness, even Nobunaga had to face some shocking betrayals in his life, betrayals that posed serious threats to his plans for unification, and at the same time left him completely dumbfounded because they came from people whom he had a total faith in.
We don't know if it ever ruined the capacity to trust of Nobunaga, after all he came from a family where even his little brother and his mother tried to "take him out", so we're keen to believe that he was kinda used to such things by now, but from the vicious and violent reactions that such betrayals provoked, we can imagine Nobunaga's levels of disappointment.

To illustrate this post, I picked ukiyo-e from the collection "Taiheiki Eiyuden" ("Heroes of the Great Peace"), your classic theme of samurai prints, by artist Ochiai Yoshiiku (1833–1904).
The collection of prints was released in 1867.
I was lucky to find all the required characters for this post in the same collection, so I thought of killing two birds with one stone.

So, I'll start with one of the most shocking betrayals for Nobunaga (and the first in chronological order), the one of his brother-in-law, AZAI NAGAMASA (1545–1573).
The Azai were the governors of the Omi Province, located at the East of Lake Biwa. Nagamasa got in control of the clan in 1560, when his father, Hisamasa, was forced to retire by his retainers, in favour of his bright son.
The alliance with the Oda would start in 1564, as Nobunaga saw in the promising youth (Nagamasa was just 19 years old at the time) a formidable ally against the Saito, now ruled by the caustic Tatsuoki; for this reason, Nobunaga gave him the hand of his precious little sister, Oichi, as a seal of their reciprocal support through a political marriage.
And things went quite well between the two, there are evidences of reciprocal admiration from both parties, so that probably Nobunaga thought that he gained a second Ieyasu on the Northern front of his province.
Though, on his task to protect Kyoto and keep in place that pest of shogun Yoshiaki, Nobunaga had to attack the Asakura clan, lords of Echizen Province, neighbours of the Azai and their long-time allies.
It's not clear how things went in the clan, it's generally assumed that Nagamasa wanted to keep himself neutral, but his father and senior retainers forced him to keep his words with the Asakura, but long story short during the Siege of Kanegasaki (1570), Nobunaga had to face the surprise attack from the rear by the Azai, led by Nagamasa.
It's said that when word of Azai's betrayal came to Nobunaga's ears, he dismissed the fact as a lie, refusing to believe it.
Here's how the event is recorded on "The Chronicles of Lord Nobunaga": "Nobunaga crossed the Kinome Pass, but as he was to break through into the heartland of Echizen, reports started coming in one after another that Azai Bizen [Nagamasa] of northern Omi had turned against him. Obviously, Azai was Nobunaga's brother-in-law. Not only that, Nobunaga had assigned northern Omi to him without reservations. As Azai had no reason for dissatisfaction, Nobunaga thought this to be a false rumor, but from all sides it was reported to be true. "What is done is done," Nobunaga concluded."
The turn of events that will follow the betrayal of Nagamasa is quite popular and it's been highly dramaticized in every media: in 1574, at the banquet in Gifu Castle to celebrate the new year, Nobunaga presented to his vassals an "yet unheard-of appetizers": the heads of Azai Nagamasa, Azai Hisamasa and Asakura Yoshikage "lacquered in gilt, [...] as a relish to the saké".
Gyuichi reports that Nobunaga was "exhilarated".

The second "touching" betrayal came from MATSUNAGA HISAHIDE (1510–1577), a trusted retainer famous for his shrewd personality, yet admired by our Nobunaga.
Matsunaga entered the picture in 1568, when Nobunaga entered Kyoto, acting as a proxy of Ashikaga Yoshiaki who was on his quest to regain his role as shogun: realizing the danger, the old fox Matsunaga decided to surrender to Nobunaga, thus keeping his lands in Yamato Province.
As a further act of goodwill and submission, Matsunaga presented Nobunaga with the renowed tea-caddy Tsukumogami.
Matsunaga was famous for being a schemer and an individual with a merciless personality. Infamous his burning of the Great Buddha Hall of the Todai-ji in 1566, an act (or a rumor?) that marked him as a true villain in the whole province.
Yet Nobunaga appreciated his shrewdness, expecially as Matsunaga proved his worth against the Azai and Asakura and against his former allies, the Miyoshi of Awa Province.
The "first" betrayal of Matsunaga dated 1573, when he conspired with the Miyoshi against Nobunaga. This alliance didn't last much, though, both Hisahide and his son Hisamichi capitulated on the winter on the next year. Nobunaga pardoned him and Matsunaga went to Gifu to show his submission, presenting him with a famous sword, Fudō Kuniyuki.
The second, severe betrayal, surfaced in 1577.
Here's the report from the "Chronicles": "Nobunaga had stationed Matsunaga Danjo [Hisahide] and his son Uemon no Suke [Hisamichi] in the permanent garrison of Tennoji, one of the forts that counterposed Ozaka. But on the 17th of the Eight Month, the two rebelled against Nobunaga, left their positions in that stronghold, and entrenched themselves in Shigi Castle in Yamato Province.
"What is your complaint?" Nobunaga inquired through Kunaikyo no Hoin
[Matsui Yukan], promising the Matsunaga that he would see to their wishes, if only they told him what was on their minds. But treachery ran so deep with the Matsunaga that they did not come forward."
This would lead to Nobunaga taking action by executing the hostages sent by the Matsunaga, two children left in custody of Sakuma Iekatsu. Their death was "such a pitiful sight that one could not bear to look at".
This followed the attack on Shigi Castle, led by Nobutada, Nobunaga's son, and supported by Sakuma, Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide and Nagahide.
The result of the assault was that "the Matsunaga set the castle tower alight and perished in the fire"; in fact "Matsunaga, who had always been known as an astute man, took the only way out", "he threw himself into the raging fire".
The commenters of the time, reminiscing that "The Great Buddha Hall in Nara had also gone up in flames on the evening of the 10th of the Tenth Month", couldn't help but see the work of "the Shining Deity of Kasuga" in action.
In another version of the story, as portrayed in the print above, Nobunaga sent his vassals to discuss things with Matsunaga, looking for a way to fix their relationship. As an act of goodwill, Nobunaga requested out of Matsunaga another precious item, the famed Hiragumo tea kettle.
Laughing at Nobunaga's greed even in such a situation, Matsunaga destroyed the precious item and then killed himself, ordering for his remains to be destroyed through fire so that Nobunaga wouldn't get his tea keetle nor his head.

The third hard shock in Nobunaga's corpus of retainers came right after the deal with Matsunaga, in 1578, this time by the hands of ARAKI MURASHIGE (1535–1586), one of Nobunaga's key vassals during the campaign of Harima against the Mouri clan.
Originally a vassal of the Ikeda Clan from Settsu, Murashige entered the picture once he managed to take control of the province after he revolted against his former lord, Ikeda Katsumasa, taking control of his castle in 1570.
Murashige became a direct vassal of Nobunaga, who recognized his rule in both Settsu and Itami Provinces, after he deserted Yoshiaki's side. It was 1573, and "to say that Nobunaga was delighted would be an understatement".
There's a legend about Araki entering Nobunaga's service, and the print above refers to this fact.
Aware of Araki's betrayal of both the Ikeda, Miyoshi and Yoshiaki, who were his former lords, Nobunaga tested Murashige's trust and grit by forcing him to eat rice paddies directly from the blade of his words after threatening him with it. It's said that Murashige obeyed promptly, surprising the other retainers for his fierceness.
Things went well for a while despite a failure every now and then, but on 1578 "reports came from all sides that Araki was plotting treason".
The "Chronicles" reported it like this: "Nobunaga found it hard to believe.
"What is your grievance?" Nobunaga inquired through Kunaikyo no Hoin, Koreto Hyuga no Kami
[Akechi Mitsuhide], and Manmi Senchiyo, promising Araki to see to his wishes, if only he said what was on his mind. The envoys reported back from Araki that he had no disloyal ambitions whatsoever. Glad to hear that, Nobunaga commanded him to send his mother as a hostage to Kyoto and to present himself, if nothing was wrong. But Araki did not make an appearance, because he had indeed rebelled."
It's interesting to see that, on contrary of previous events, here Nobunaga tried further reconciliations, "using Koreto Hyuga no Kami, Hashiba Chikuzen [Hashiba Hideyoshi] and Kunaikyo no Hoin as his intermediaries. Araki, however, was not receptive to these initiatives".
As reports about Murashige joining the warrior monks of Honganji started to get more and more insisting, Nobunaga was only left with the option of punishment.
In the next months, former allies, sworn brothers and retainers started to leave Murashige's side, realizing the inevitable.
The massacres of the hostages of Amagasaki and Hanakuma took place in 1579: "more that 510 persons in all" (most of them women and children) were burned alive, beheaded or crucified, the wives and children of the men "of the sort who had held their heads high in Settsu province" were rounded up and crucified, while Araki's kin was put to death in Kyoto as an example to renegades.
"This horrendous punishment meted out by Nobunaga had no precedent from antiquity to the present day".
--But what about Murashige, you ask? He fled the castle with his men before the massacre, taking refuge in a branch of the Honganji in Kyoto first, and in Mouri's territory later.
He became a lay-monk, going by the name of "Doukun", as a disciple of the famed tea master Sen no Rikyu. He took service under Hideyoshi for a while as a master of tea ceremony before "falling from grace" with his lord because of his loathe for Takayama Ukon, at the time one of Hideyoshi's key vassals.
He met his death in 1586.

This gruesome report ends with the deed of AKECHI MITSUHIDE (1528–1582), probably the most famous of the lot.
Who was Akechi Mitsuhide, and how did he meet Nobunaga's grace?
Originally a senior retainer of Saito Dosan (Nobunaga's father-in-law), he abandoned the clan after the death of his lord by Tatsuoki's hands.
He was sheltered by the clan on his mother's side, the Takeda clan of Wakasa, and then served the Asakura clan of Echizen Province.
During the disturbances involving the Ashikaga shogunate in 1566, Asakura Yoshikage sent Mitsuhide over to Yoshiaki to act as his proxy.
As the Asakura procrastinated the march on Kyoto, though, Yoshiaki asked Mitsuhide to mediate with Nobunaga instead.
It's plausible to suppose that Mitsuhide entered Nobunaga's service in 1570. In the "Chronicles", after his brief apparition in service of Yoshiaki (1569), he's mentioned again in 1570, gathering hostages from the Mutou clan under Nobunaga's orders after the retreat from the Battle of Kanegasaki, the one that saw Nagamasa's betrayal.
Despite being a recent acquisition in Nobunaga's crew, Mitsuhide was granted castles and provinces for his feats quite instantly, and his talents as a warrior and administrator were well-regarded by his lord.
On the eve of his fateful betrayal in 1582, he was one of Nobunaga's key vassals and one of the most influential voices in his circle.
Many theories, more or less acceptable, have been released to try to explain the reasons for this shocking betrayal, but all we have is the brief description of those convulsive moments after Akechi made up his mind to "kill Nobunaga and make himself the master of the Realm" from our "Chronicles": "In no time at all, the enemy surrounded the Honnoji, the temple where Lord Nobunaga was staying, and came bursting in tumultuously from all four sides. At first both Nobunaga and his pages thought that a passing quarrel had broken among the lower orders, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. The enemy raised the battle cry and blasted Nobunaga's residential quarters with their guns. "This is treason!" Nobunaga stated "Whose plot is it?" "They look like Akechi's men" Mori Ran replied. Nobunaga's response was, "What's done is done"".
Sure the events were so quick that we can't expect a deeper reaction out of Nobunaga, but it's worth noting that it's the same words pronounced after Azai's betrayal.

All in all to suffer "only" four betrayals in a life of conquests and struggles may look like not such a big deal.
But the emotion behind Nobunaga's reactions, his pity, his cruelty and his shock, sure are indicative of the genuine feelings of this man for his allies and retainers and that, yeah, even a "Demon Lord" could trust someone.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Onna Nobunaga (2013)

While watching this tanpatsu, the words of the freshly elected governor of Tokyo came to my mind.
The ones about women being unable to rule because menstruations make them unstable, you know.
Besides the tragedy of a normal girl being forced to act as a man to grant the succession of her clan, this is what the female Nobunaga thought too, after all: she just wanted to comb her pretty hair, found a lover and eventually went to an oversea trip with her hubby once reaching mid-life, thus reflecting the convictions of every average Japanese woman and explaining how Masuzoe-san could be granted his seat in Tokyo.
Nobunaga was considered a fine leader and someone who could easily think outside the box exactly because of her female sensitivity. But at the same time this "femininity" of her (coadiuvated by the "temper" of a "young lord") is also the reason for her poor judgment, expecially when it came to her lovers (that she tried to turn into her successors EVERY TIME), and the hostilities and suffering of her once "partners-in-crime", see Ichi and Nou.

Besides the pitiful rendition of the strenght and the pride of a woman (and I'm not referring only to Nobunaga), this mini-series has been quite entertaining, even in its outrageous interpretation of historical characters and events, because of a solid, intriguing plot and a number of "plot-twists" that enrich the narration.
Paradoxally, the best way to enjoy "Onna Nobunaga" is knowing the actual facts, so to smile and nod at the interpretation of the movies with the knowledge of Nobunaga's gender and her emotive situation at the moment.

Nobunaga in her young days is played by Chika Arakawa.

The curriculum of this girl is quite tiny because of her young age, but I really enjoyed her performance and her interpretation of the character.
She's a gloomy, melanchonic youth forced to wear someone's else identity to please a mother that didn't consider her anymore because of the birth of a male son and for the sake of a clan unimpressed by her goodwill to meet their expectations.
She secretly danced and wore female clothes to find a connection with her identity, only to meet the spite of her tutors and parents because she couldn't keep up with her role.
A role that was forced on her, not differently (and even more cruelly, because it goes against her "nature") from the women sent to marriages or as hostages out of profit and alliances-- By men for men.

It's time for Nobunaga's baptism of fire, so enters Yuki Amami, that will cover Nobunaga's role for the rest of the series.
I'm not going to complain about the fact that a woman in her 40s is playing the role of a boy of 13, I'm used to this stuff by now, but I think that it must be noted anyway.

I loved the performance of this actress. Her facial expressions, gestures and voice, everything was perfect, and I can admit that if I kept watching this is because of her wonderful acting (and for Masaaki Uchino, a guy that I developed a crush on while watching "Fuurin Kazan", here playing as Mitsuhide)-- It'd be good if male actors could play male characters like she did XD

I was glad to see Toshiyuki Nishida again! I was endeared to him after his performance on "Katen Shiro", and here he was playing a thoughtful Nobuhide.
I loved how he grew accustomed to the role of Nobunaga as the heir after the initial disgust, and it was nice to see that he could see through his "son"'s apparent weakness and recognize a personality that could grant peace and stability for the whole country.

As for my favourite Masaaki Uchino, he played a cute Mitsuhide. And I'm sure that it wasn't his intention to appear as "cute", but the hopelessness of his characters just makes me want to hug and squeeze him ;_; --Something that Nobunaga thought too, apparently, LOL.

Going back to our story, I found the idea of the "double identity" of Nobunaga quite smart.
The issue of keeping the secret of Nobunaga's gender faced when our Nobu fell ill and the assistance of a doctor was required. Ichi wass quick to explain to Nou that in these cases "her brother became a woman": under the identity of Chou she's introduced as an anonymous lady-in-wait.

"Lady Chou" will appear more and more frequently under the protective (and a bit frivolous, even if animated by the best intentions) wing of Nou, but this would bring unhappiness when Mitsuhide, an old flame of Nou, fell in love with the pretty, misterious lady, requited.

Speaking of the action scenes, they manage to be quite entertaining, assuming that you're ok with ignoring how the actual history went.
Amami-san as Nobunaga in these scenes, the parts where "he" displays his power and rule is quite convincing, even when he's "acting" to follow his "secret agenda":

--I must admit that she's not very credible in male clothes (that tiny neck!), but her pointy yet delicated features surely hit the spot.
I was really positively impressed by her acting, and coming from me it's a huge deal, guys.

Of course, the movies didn't ignore the "infamous" acts of Nobunaga: from the golden skulls to the declaration of his divinity passing through the "Atsumori" dance, you can enjoy all of them, here relished by the unexpected "behind the scenes".

Curious bit, at least the burning of Mount Hiei and the persecution of buddhist monks was devised by Mitsuhide, here introduced in the unexpected role of the "nanban-fanatic": starting from guns, he's the one who presented his nanban armor to Nobunaga, brought the missionaries to Azuchi and entertained his lord with this or that war strategy from Europe.
Intriguing how the "three volley pass" of Nagashino was credited to a foreign tactic and not to Nobunaga's intuition.

Jumping to the end of the movie, a few words on the Honnoji's Incident, which interpretation was indeed what one would expect from a nice happy ending.
Mitsuhide faced a betrayed yet fiery Nobunaga and after a bold turn of events, Chou could be granted her mid-life cruise, finally.

My overall opinion is that this was a nice series and an entertaining watch.
I must admit that my maiden heart whimpered when Nobunaga found her way into the warm and manly embrace of both Nagamasa and Mitsuhide (kyaaaah!), so even the romance, despite its obvious accent of stupidity, was really well constructed, even if a bit too vicious in certain parts (obviously Nobunaga had to "steal" other women's husbands and lovers LOL).
I also liked the portrayal of Hideyoshi (played by Yusuke Iseya), the shrewd man of fortune (even if he was given too little screentime, in my opinion), and cute Ieyasu (played by Naohito Fujiki), the man with neverending patience (poor Ieyasu, LOL) and, despite being a minor character, my heart bet a little faster when Hanzo Hattori (played by Koichi Satou) jumped on the stage.

All in all, you can say that the worst thing that could happen to a woman is not her period.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A look into Nobunaga's heraldry

I happened to notice something curious... That is, the battle banners sported by the Oda army in movies, videogames or miniatures; here's an example, coming from the taiga drama Tokugawa Ieyasu, where Nobunaga was played by Yakusho Koji:
I was so used to see the Oda kamon on Nobunaga's banners that I started to gave it for granted, but as I was searching for other informations, I happened to stumble on a contribution from O Uma Jirushi, a compilation of daimyo and samurai banners compiled in 1650 by a monk named Kyuan.
This work is considered quite reliable and it's an accredited source for what concerns Japanese heraldry.

Here I found the banners that were supposed to belong to Nobunaga's army:
The first and third item are recognized as horo (母衣), respectived of the black (黒母衣衆) and red (赤母衣衆) units.
The second item is the uma-jirushi, a standard coming in varied shapes that pin-pointed the location of the daimyo on the battlefield. Nobunaga's rappresents a golden umbrella, here.
And finally, the last item is a nobori, which is nothing but what we called a banner 'til now.
As you can see, it's not decorated by the Oda kamon, but by the eiraku tsuho coin, one of Nobunaga's personal symbols.

I found a similar reference on this painting of the Battle of Nagashino, preserved in the museum of Nakatsu Castle (中津城):
You can spot Nobunaga at the end of the marching group, mounted on horse.
He's preceeded by a tsukaiban sporting a red horo, and you see again the coin on his banners.
Here are different uma-jirushi, though: instead of a golden umbrella, you can spot black feathers decorating them.
In this painting we can also see the exhibition of the "lord's helmet": besides the practical reason, the bearer of the helmet was considered as the bearer of an uma-jirushi.

For further pics, I suggest you to take a peek at this page; you can see further versions of the same banner, coming from other paintings or prints.
The picture contains also a depiction of the Oda clan's sashimono, which is very curious, as it doesn't contain any kamon again.

At this point I wondered about what the Oda clan sported on their nobori before Nobunaga's rise to power --And I couldn't find anything. Apparently whatever was of the Oda clan before Nobunaga has been removed from the collective memory..?
The only nobori left related to the Oda and sporting the kamon that I could find, is that of Nobunaga's son Nobukatsu, that apparently used a multicoloured version of it.
An example can be found at the Rakusan'en garden in Gunma Prefecture:
Picture's source:

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Nobunaga's List of Valets

While browsing the internet I found a page dedicated to Nobunaga that offerend some lists on interest.
One of them regarded the many kosho (valets) that serviced Nobunaga during his life. It's a subject that intrigues me, so I'm going to "decypher" this page for you guys, adding further infos when possible.
Regarding this, the original article doesn't list the pages employed in Nagoya Castle (那古野城) because the author said that besides the "big names" they couldn't find infos about it. I decided to include them anyway for the sake of completion.
Following the format of the original article, I'm going to categorize them "by castle", implying their period of service as valets.
A gruesome portrait of Mori Rikimaru by Yoshitoshi for his collection of muzan-e "Selection of One-Hundred Warriors" --Just to remind you that valets were not just pretty boys!

Nagoya Castle
► Ikeda Tsuneoki (1536 – 1584) - Also known as Nobuteru, Tsuneoki was pretty much Nobunaga's "first retainer" ever. Since his mother was Nobunaga's foster mother, they shared a strong bond and intimate relationship, as strong as to make Nobunaga recognize him as his brother. His father, Toshitsune, was one of the direct retainers of Nobuhide (Nobunaga's father).
► Niwa Nagahide (1535 - 1585) - Nagahide entered Nobunaga's service as a kosho in 1550, when he was around 15 years old.
Nobunaga trusted him enormously: he's frequently mentioned as taking care of Nobunaga's administrative duties or PR affairs.
He was allowed to marry Nobunaga's adopter daughter Keihou'in in 1563, and his son Nagashige would marry Nobunaga's fifth daughter Houon'in in 1580, as another proof of the strong bond between the two clans.
► Maeda Toshiie (1538 – 1599) - Toshiie moved from Arago village to Nagoya to serve Nobunaga as a valet in 1551, at the age of 13.
He was known for sharing the eccentric tastes of his lord, being a kabukimono in his youth.
Toshiie entered Nobunaga's akahoro elite corps in 1558 and he's famous for mentions about his wakashudo relationship with Nobunaga.
For his loyalty he was allowed to become the heir of the Maeda clan despite being the fourth of six sons.
► Sassa Narimasa (1536 – 1588) - Narimasa entered Nobunaga's service as a page in 1552 at the age of 16 (but according to other sources he was born in 1538, making him 14 at the time of his employment). He was the third of five brothers, and he inherited the Sassa household when his two older brothers died at the Battle of Okehazama.

Kiyosu Castle
► Iwamuro Shigeyasu (?? – 1561) - Also known as Nagato-no-kami, he was Nobunaga's favourite during his stay in Kiyosu. In 1559 he managed to be promoted in akahoro ranks but he still served as Nobunaga's valet.
He survived the Battle of Okehazama where he accompanied Nobunaga but he met his end at Oguchi Castle in 1561, during a battle against the Saito in Mino.
It's said that Nobunaga mourned his death grievously.
► Kato Yasaburou (?? – 1573) - The son of Kato Kiyomori, like Shigeyasu above, he took part in the Battle of Okehazama in the same unit. He was dismissed by Nobunaga in 1563, so he served under Ieyasu Tokugawa. He died in the Battle of Mikatagahara.
► Sawaki Yoshiyuki (?? – 1573) - Also known as Touhachi (藤八), he was the son of Maeda Toshiharu and the younger brother of Toshiie. As above, he took part in the Battle of Okehazama in the same unit (he entered it in 1558, though, with his brother). He was dismissed by Nobunaga in 1563, so he served under Ieyasu Tokugawa. He died in the Battle of Mikatagahara.
► Hasegawa Kyousuke (?? – 1573) - Also known as Ukon (右近). In 1552 he took part in the Battle of Akatsuka, against an Imagawa force in Owari, he entered the akahoro in 1558 and took part in the Battle of Okehazama.
He was dismissed by Nobunaga in 1564, entered in Ieyasu's service and died in the Battle of Mikatagahara.
► Yamaguchi Hida-no-kami (?? – 1573) - He entered the akahoro in 1558, he took part in the Battle of Okehazama in 1560 and he was dismissed in 1563 too.
He joined the ranks of Ieyasu yet he took part in the siege of Okawachi Castle in 1569 as a member of the the Oda army against the Kitabatake clan of Ise.
He died in the Battle of Mikatagahara.

Gifu/Azuchi Castle
► Aoki Tsuru (??) - He escorted Takayama Tomoteru to the north in the custody of Shibata Katsuie after the Takayama betrayed Nobunaga by siding with Araki in 1578.
► Ichiwaka (??) - He took part in the Battle of Saika (1577) and in the umazoroe in Kyoto of 1581.
► Kanamori Shinjirou (?? – 1579) - He's mentioned because of his fight with Saji Shintarou. He was stabbed by his fellow valet.
► Saji Shintarou (?? – 1579) - See above. After he killed Shinjirou in a fit of rage, he committed seppuku to take responsibility for his crime.
► Nakanishi Gonbee (??) - He assisted Ranmaru when he was sent as an envoy to Shiokawa Nagamitsu to compensate him with 1000 pieces of silver. He had his residence at Azuchi Castle (1579).
► Hasegawa Hidekazu (?? – 1594) - Also known as Take (竹). The nephew of Hasegawa Kyousuke, mentioned above. He served Nobunaga during the campaign of Harima in 1578 and he kept serving him as his emissary, supervisor, messenger and administrative deputy. During the Incident of Honnoji he was assigned by Nobunaga to take care of Tokugawa Ieyasu during his trip to Osaka. Later he'd enter into Toyotomi Hideyoshi's service. He met his death during the Invasion of Korea.
► Hori Hidemasa (1553 – 1590) - Also known as Kikuchiyo (菊千代) and Kyuutarou. Originally serving Hideyoshi, he entered in Nobunaga's service as a valet in 1566 at the age of 13. He was extremely capable in both administrative and military fields. He was granted the fief of Sakata, in Omi province, in 1581.
He took part in many battles, and after Nobunaga's death he joined Hideyoshi's army, where he kept fighting. He died of illness in 1590.
► Manmi Shigemoto (?? – 1578) - Also known as Senchiyo. He served Nobunaga in the Harima campaign in 1578 and on the same year he was one of the envoys who were asked to inquiry to Araki Murashige about his betrayal.
He died in the attack of Arioka Castle.
► Mori Naritoshi (1565 - 1582) - The famous Ranmaru (蘭丸), also referred to as Ran (乱), third son of Mori Yoshinari, entered Nobunaga's service in 1577. He's probably the most rapresentative valet of the Sengoku era, and his name is still a metaphor for an extremely beautiful young man.
He assisted Nobunaga his whole life, on the battlefield as with administrative duties.
He died by his side at Honnoji.
► Mori Boumaru (1566 - 1582) - Ranmaru's younger brother and Yoshinari's fourth son. He entered Nobunaga's service together with his older brother in 1577. He died at Honnoji.
► Mori Rikimaru (1567 - 1582) - Ranmaru's younger brother and Yoshinari's fifth son. He entered Nobunaga's service together with his older brothers in 1577. He died at Honnoji.
► Ogura Shoujo (1567 - 1582) - Also known as Matsuchiyo. Son of Ogura Sanefusa. When his father died in 1570, his mother Onabe-no-kata served Nobunaga as his concubine. Nobunaga took her sons as his valets. He died at Honnoji.
► Ogura Jingorou (?? - 1582) Younger brother of Shoujo. He died at Honnoji.
► Takahashi Toramatsu (?? - 1582) - He moved to Azuchi in the late 1570s. In 1579 he was given the old residence of Hasegawa Hidekazu in Azuchi. In 1581 he was presented a fief by Nobunaga after the victory of Nobukatsu against Iga. He died at Honnouji.

List of Valets who died at Honnoji (this is just a list of the valets who died during the Incident of Honnoji, besides those above mentioned, about which I [and the original author of the article] couldn't find any certain, further informations)
► Iikawa Miyamatsu (飯河 宮松)
► Itou Hikosaku (伊藤 彦作)
► Imagawa Magosaburou (今川 孫三郎)
► Uozumi Shoushichi(魚住 勝七)
► Oida Kame (種田 亀)
► Ootsuka Magouzo (大塚 孫三)
► Ogawa Aihei (小河 愛平)
► Ochiai Kohachirou (落合 小八郎)
► Kanamori Ginyou (金森 義入)
► Kashiwabara Nabemaru (柏原 鍋丸)
► Kashiwabara's little brother
► Kanou Matakuurou (狩野 又九郎)
► Kukuri Kame (久々利 亀)
► Sugaya Kakuzou (菅谷 角蔵)
► Susukita Yogorou (薄田 与五郎)
► Sobue Mago (祖父江 孫)
► Takeda Kitarou (武田 喜太郎)
► Yamada Yatarou (山田 弥太郎)

The original article also mentions the valets of Nobutada who died with him at Nijo castle... But maybe we can talk about it another time!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Oda Nobunaga - The Fool who conquered Japan (1998)

And here I am to talk about a TV movie dedicated to Nobunaga, this time focusing exclusively on his youth.
The Fool who conquered Japan is quite famous around because of his protagonist, the idol Kimura Takuya, here playing the main role of Nobunaga.

[Again, sorry for the crappy quality of the screenshots]

The performance of Kimura is quite popular around, but must be noted that the most of these enthusiastic comments come from genuine fans of the guy (that problably watched a bit too many Japanese dramas and too few good movies).
Since everything connected with Japanese boys bands and the like disgust me, you can count on a honest opinion here XD

Well, I do think that Kimura shines in the shoes of a young Nobunaga.
But I also think that such a performance is not a big deal: you can compare Kimura's acting to that of any other young actor playing the role of the school delinquent, and the result is pretty much the same. Still, it's undeniable that the overall impression is quite enjoyable.

As I really enjoyed the body language of the actor, I found his expressivity a bit over the top: you know, those grimaces and those annoying "fluttering" eyebrows to suggest practically every kind of emotion..? Yeah, exactly like that.
It's kinda bothering the fact that when Nobunaga "played" the fool he looked quite natural and realistic but when he's supposed to show his "true" emotions he turned into some kind of kabuki parody.

Apparently this movie is based on the homonymous novel by Sakaguchi Ango dated 1953, that from what we could get from the movie, it takes quite a lot of liberties when it comes to the historical source.

According to Ango those plotting Nobunaga's demise in favor of Nobuyuki were mostly Dota Gozen, Nobunaga's mother, and Hayashi Hidesada, one of Nobunaga's guardians, here painted as vicious villain straight from a Disney's movie.
As the plot against Nobunaga sounds plausible, the idea of Dota and Hayashi conspiring to kill Nobuhide, Nobunaga's father, makes very little sense.
In the movie instead of the "throwing of the incense" scene, we are shown Nobunaga nailing his sword next to his dead father to show his disappointment and signify "his father's rage" for being unable to die on the battlefield as he wished, smelling the betrayal of his mother.
Apparently 20 men couldn't extract the sword from the floor and they had to remove and replace the whole thing.

After this, we're shown Hirate's seppuku.
For a retainer to kill himself to remonstrate against the wrong actions of his lord was a rare yet testified occurrence.
In the movie, Hirate is rappresented as the only one who understood Nobunaga and his actions (together with Nobuhide, who never doubted Nobunaga's role as the heir of the Oda clan). If this was the case, I doubt that he would have killed himself to remonstrate.

A few words of plause for the "teammates" of Nobunaga, protagonists together with Kimura of some of the funniest scenes of the movie.
Fujimaru, the chubby one, is played by hilarious Taguchi Hiromasa, Senkuro, the boy doing the most of the talk, is played by Takezawa Kazuma while pretty Senchiyo (Niwa Nagahide) is played by Isaki Mitsunori.

The relationship and portrait of Nobuyuki is quite vapid.
Nobuyuki respected his brother, then suddenly we're told that he actually despised him.
It's a bit unnatural to show us a Nobuyuki that started to hate his brother in the span of a few months. One of the explanations provided for this sudden change of heart, is that of Nobuyuki being in love with Nouhime.
The part where Dota Gozen tried to encourage Nobuyuki's betrayal by promising him to let him marry Nouhime (that the boy has a crush for) is ridiculous, but I can see such things being popular in the 50s.

In the movie both Kitsuno and her brother Hachiemon (Ikoma Ienaga) appear since the beginning and quite frequently.
It's suggested that the Ikoma mansion worked like some kind of "refuge" for Nobunaga, who went there to escape his family's conspiracies and find some peace of mind.
This movie embraced the theory that Nobunaga knew Kitsuno since his youth, even if here he's still uncertain about his feelings for the woman, at least consciously.

Speaking of women, I enjoyed the portrait of Nouhime by Nakatani Miki, but I didn't like how easily the character went "head over the heels" for Nobunaga.
We have Nouhime being presented a short sword so to kill Nobunaga in case he's a real fool (I wonder if it ever happened for a wife to kill her husband during Sengoku era... It's a danger that it's always mentioned in movies and novels, but I never read of such an occurence) and the duty to spy on him in the best shinobi fashion, but during the most of time Nou is busy being in love and being ignored systematically by her young husband.

It's implied that Dousan trusted the judgement of his daughter, but at a certain point he decided to kill his son-in-law anyway.
The meeting between Dousan and Nobunaga in 1553 is presented as a conspiracy to kill Nobunaga on the border of Mino... When Dosan spotted the armament of Nobunaga's men he was impressed by the long spears and the muskets, and when he showed up all cleaned-up and cool at the banquet, every attempt to Nobunaga's life was fast forgotten.
I liked this rendition of Dousan, the actor was peculiarly effective.

At this point of the story, marking its conclusion, a chronological delirium ensued.
Profitting of Nobunaga's absence to meet Dousan, Nobuyuki & Co. decided to attack Nobunaga's castle in Nagoya, sure that Dousan killed him, so to allow Nobuyuki to claim the Oda heirship and face Dousan's invasion.
In an insane rush of events, we're shown Nobunaga defeating the Nobuyuki Team, then receiving Nobuyuki to kill him after getting the proof of his betrayal.
In reality, the Battle of Ino happened in 1556, three years after Nobunaga's meeting with Dousan, and Nobuyuki was killed in 1558, after another failed coup.

So, as the movie may be entertaining, I wouldn't call it all all the best movie about Nobunaga around, neither the movie featuring the best Nobunaga.
Despite the fun and refreshing first part, it suffers of a rushed and ineffective final part that lowers the quality and enjoyment of the movie.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nobunaga - King of Zipangu (1992)

I was thinking, I'm reviewing the dramas and movies where Nobunaga makes just a brief appearance, I could as well talk a bit about dramas and movies that focus exclusively on Nobunaga, no?
So, today I'm here to tell you about one of the taiga drama about Nobunaga that I had the chance to watch in its entirety and with English subs, NOBUNAGA - King of Zipangu, directed by Shigemitsu Yukihiko and based on the historical novel by Tamukai Seiken.
[I excuse myself for the bad quality of the screenshots, but this is what I could get]

This series followed three lines of narration: the first one, the main line, is obviously about Nobunaga life. The two other narrations are those of the whereabouts of Luis Frois during his missioni (Frois is also the "narrator" of the whole story), and that of Zuiten's.

--Who's Zuiten, you ask? This guy here:
An original character coming directly from the novel, that everyone found unbearable from the beginning to the end of the drama and whose adventures where definitely uncalled for (a shark was jumped when we see him lusting after Dota Gozen, Nobunaga's mother, and sleeping with her-- MY EYES!! MY BRAIN!!!!).

I think that he was there to signify the "end of an era" of "superstitions", compared to the "modernity" that Nobunaga suggested with his reforms, just like Frois and his fellow bateren are depicted as "refreshing news" compared to the warrior-minded Buddhists monks but even to Japanese "mindset" as a whole, for example when Frois explains the habits of eating meat or when he compares Japanese warfare to Western warfare to Nobunaga's concerned vassals.
The defy of Zuiten's skills as a fortune-teller, once vital for Nobuhide's battles, and the gradual degeneration that turned him into a wretched creature --yet "kept" by Nobunaga, seems to go in this sense.
In the end, during the death of Nobunaga at Honnoji, Zuiten decided to die with his lord, once spited and now revered, and Nobunaga's words before his seppuku are cristalline about it: "Perhaps my contribution to the new world now is just to die".

But let's go in order.
I rewatched this quickly for this review focusing on certain episodes of interests, so sorry if I'm not offering a complete summary of events.

Let's start with the actors playing Nobunaga, then!
Nobunaga as a child was played by Morita Kousuke.
He's first shown to us wearing a woman's kosode and playing around with it, for the discomfort of his nannies.
He's also shown being randomly kicked and thrown around by his father Nobuhide, who follows a very peculiar way to show his concern for the making of his son in a fine leader D:
It's said that the young Kipposhi was an expecially untamed child, making it a torture to deal with for the various nannies and ladies-in-wait that had the misfortune to be put in his service.

Nobunaga as a young lad was played by Yamane Takaaki.
Facing his playmates in fights and innovative war tactics and most importantly being harshly rebuked by his vassals, Hirate Masahide and Naito Katsusuke in primis, is what you'll see him doing the most of his screentime.
At this point Nobunaga is the lord of Nagoya castle, but still taken into his childish ways.

The "Fool of Owari" period, where Nobunaga is shown while facing his first important "steps" into society, saw the introduction of Ogata Naoto as the lead actor for this role.

He's the actor that played Nobunaga in his whole adulthood, and sure it's a bit shocking to see him jumping from the "wild look" of his youth to the proper chonmage after his meeting with Dousan.

I'm not fond of the style of Japanese acting, so it's difficult for me to approach the performance of Ogata without the required honesty and knowledge.
I assume that it's difficult for a Japanese actor to approach such a legendary figure and to face the stress of offering an adeguate portrayal. As a boy, Nobunaga was not as different from any lively youngster, but the anguish of living a life under attack from his very relatives since childhood and the "importance" of his figure in Japanese imagination sure are a heavy toll on the freedom of interpretation of an actor. Willing or not, some of the "humanity" of a rendition is going to be sacrificed on the altar of historiography.
So, as I enjoyed the acting of Ogata in many parts, I found it "restrained" and somehow "stiff" when it came to portray Nobunaga in his maturity (a flaw that many actors experienced in this role), also if the intensity of the interpretation is still palpable.

Nobuyuki, the difficult little brother of Nobunaga, and Kichou, his unruly wife, are respectively played by Oizumi Tsubasa and Kikuchi Momoko.
I liked a lot the rendition of these characters.
The portrayal of female characters is always an infinite boredom, but I enjoyed the "outrageous" interpretation of Kichou, here shown as a rebelious wife, a strong-headed woman, and her highly improbable but no less entertaining "break" as a merchant in Sakai.
On the contrary, I found the portrayal of Onabe as "the goddess of death" and that of Oichi as a neverending remonstrating pain in the ass to be quite over the top.
The vicious conflict of emotions of Nobuyuki, who turned the admiration for his older brother into rivalry first and loathe later, offered a wonderful psychological rendition of the historical person.
I enjoyed this same psychological intensity consisting of conflictual feelings, expectations and wishes in the portrayal of Nobunaga, too.
Its climax is probably in the original interpretation of the famous Atsumori during the episodes dedicated to the Battle of Okehazama.
Here the author decided to play the whole scene under a distressing yet dreamlike mood, making us feel the conflicting feelings of Nobunaga during his first step in history.
Instead of dancing then, Nobunaga just recites the famous verses of the play, as to ponder about the uselessness of human ambitions rather than as to encourage himself before a reckless venture.

Nobunaga didn't dance before Okehazama, but he did in his youth, gaining mouths open in adoration from his fellow kabukimono (expecially from Ikeda Tsuneoki!), and when he realized his "divine nature", after thriumping over all his enemies, while enjoying the view from "above the Heavens" at Azuchi.
It's really interesting that Nobunaga didn't dance Atsumori in this drama. A peculiar choice since in every movie he's shown doing it almost at every turning point of his life (for example, in the Kagemusha movie, he did so as he got the news of Shingen's death).

The series follows pretty much the reports of Frois in its narration, so I wasn't surprised to see it embracing completely the the theory of Nobunaga's self-deification.
Nobunaga is portrayed as a "twisted altruist" during this drama. At first it's him worrying about the shogun and how he forced him to follow his orders to grant him a decent and comfy life. Then there's a scene when Nobunaga got furious over the complaints of people for his requests to build extra bridges and roads: he's extremely frustrated by how people couldn't understand his considerations for their development.
The self-deification thing is tied to this manner of thinking: Nobunaga realized that his success and good luck are a proof of his "divinity", so he decided to put his "avatar" in Sokenji at Azuchi, so people could get some of his luck off him and have their wishes granted.
Obviously, this whole thing made him look like a psycho to his vassals (and to the viewers too!). According to the tv series, the Sakuma were banished because Nobumori openly remonstrated against this idea.

We're then to Akechi's betrayal and the Honnoji Incident.
I liked how Akechi's motivations for his betrayal were explained. Even if quite obvious and simple, I'm keen to believe that they still offer the best interpretation of the whole deal.
Basically, Mitsuhide was sick of fighting and wanted to live in peace as the lord of his province. It's the result of the "petty mind" that Mitsuhide developed while being a ronin, and most importantly of his, despite his strenght in battle, little tollerance for the kind of stress that Nobunaga forced on his vassals. It kept people like Hideyoshi or Shibata motivated, but sure it didn't sort the same positive effects on everyone. The fact that one of these exceptions was his trusted Akechi, sure marked the end of Nobunaga's "divine" lucky stride.
The battle happening in the temple's precints, like the most of the battles depicted in the drama, is painful, confused, messy and dramatic. There are many historical inaccuracies (like that of Nobutada dying there while trying to give assistance to his father) but what you get is quite a genuine feeling out of the whole mess.

My general opinion of this drama is positive, then.
It's a dark, painful rendition of Nobunaga's life that takes some big liberties with history, but still enjoyable and acceptable.

Too bad for Zuiten, though.