Satomi Hakken Den (1983)

My favorite sub-genre in all of tokusatsu eiga would have to be the films dealing with Japanese mythology. In this genre, I have two supreme favorites: "Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle" (1999) and "Satomi Hakken Den" (1983). Here is a breakdown of the film's production. As a reminder to the reader, tokusatsu eiga does not only surround kaiju, but all Japanese special effects films.

Kinji Fukasaku. His name is one of the most popular in all of Nippon Eiga. He is almost up there with Akira Kurosawa. After going through the 1970’s doing mostly Yakuza films, Fukasaku turned his attention to tokusatsu eiga. This included films like "The Green Slime" and "Message In Space". The mentioning of the latter film is important for it is one of the things that is part of the Kinji Fukasaku image people have. It is that "Message In Space" is actually based on the same story that "Satomi Hakken Den" was based on: "The Hakken Den". Technically, while "Message From Space" is influenced from the real "Hakkenden" by Balkin, this film is actually a film adaptation of a modern adaptation, called "New Satomi Hakken Den" written by Toshiro Kamata. Fukasaku, who was given a rough copy of the book that was to be published by Kadokawa, used it as a scapegoat from having to adapt the gargantuan epic which is the original "Satomi Hakken Den". The novel was hastily finished for the film's released, so says Fukasaku. "I was really impressed that they had the novel ready to be turned into a movie that fast." This would be the second cinematic adaptation of "The Hakkenden" tale, and would be a continuation of Fukasaku's "New Jidai Geki" ("New Period Piece Film").

Producing the film would be mega producer (in the same vein as America's Harvey Weinstein) Haruki Kadokawa, who worked with Fukasaku on "Makai Tensho" and owned the Kadokawa film company until being caught with possession of cocaine in 1993. The use of Kadokawa would be something of a necessity, since "Satomi Hakken Den" is a film on similar scale to one of Haruki’s own films, "Heaven and Earth" (mentioned in the Chapter 1), therefore needed a large publicity stunt. The film was budgeted over a million US dollars, a rare feat at the time. The screenplay was written by both Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Kamata.

The actors in the film included people Fukasaku already worked with. From the Japan Action Club came the famous Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill, Vol. 1; Street Fighter) and his partner, a young Hiroyuki Sanada (Onmyoji, Rush Hour 3, The Last Samurai). Both worked on Fukasaku’s 1981 film "Makai Tensho" (Samurai Reincarnation) and Chiba starred in an earlier Fukasaku film playing the same character of Jubei in "Shogun’s Samurai". However, unlike the previous films, Sonny Chiba would be more of a supporting actor with Haryuki Sanada being the lead actor and potential love interest in the film and top actor. Opposite of Sanada is Hiroko Yakushimaru, a film star and pop idol at the time of the film’s production and future actress in Toho’s first "ALWAYS" film. Her stardom came from not only this film but also another film released also in 1981, "Sailor Suit and Machine Gun" (which Kadokawa was behind). "She was 19 years old when we were filming Eight Samurai. She was studying for her college exam the whole time." Together, they had great on screen chemistry. "I knew if we put these two idols in a strange time period and setting, we'd end up with a really special kind of film."

The score of the film, though composed mainly by the band "Nobody" was produced in conjunction with American soft rock singer John O’Banion. O’Banion recorded accouple of songs for the film, including "White Light" and "I Don’t Want This Night To End" (which two different but very similar mixed appear in the film). His appeal came from the fact that O’Banion’s previous song, "I Don’t Want to Loose Your Love" was awarded at the Tokyo Music Festival. The usage of such scores became a regular thing in Japan, even effecting Toho's Godzilla reboot, "The Return of Godzilla". Two separate soundtracks to the film were released for the film, one with the film’s score and the other with O’Banion’s contributions to the film. The difference between the two was that O’Banion’s had at the bottom a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus overlapping the theatrical poster art for the film.

The film would be released in roadshow (this means that it played in sections of Japan, for example, it would play in the Kyoto region for some time before moving on to Osaka and then Tokyo) December 10, 1983. It’s publicity - with some snuck in claims of the film taking 10 years to make - was something of genius for it was one of the biggest box office hits of that year. Something done to increase sales was that after a section of Japan had the film played, the VHS was available for public consumption. These tapes had cost well over $100, but it wasn't a problem and over 50,000 people bought the tape.

However, English speaking territories like America were out of luck with the film receiving little to no attention, especially with the international trailer using two different names for the film, "Legend of the Eight Samurai" and "Legend of the Eight Ninjas". Like some films, the international version of the film fell into public domain and though now officially released in America is still largely bootlegged.