Sunday, November 26, 2017


In spite of the torrid pace of Orphan releases this year, I do find time to work on other projects, usually within the back-catalog space. Here's one that's been gestating for a while: Toei's 1982 movie Haguregumo, from Soldado and Saizen (aka SolZen). It's been in the works for more than 18 months, starting as a DVD encode and finishing as a 1080p release encoded from an HDTV broadcast.

Haguregumo is set in the Bakumatsu, the turbulent period at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, after the "opening" of Japan in 1854. The country was being torn apart by competing factions - modernizers trying to apply Western technology and ideas to Japanese society; Imperial loyalists, trying to reassert to the ascendancy of the Emperor; and the forces of the Shogunate, trying to defend the military bureaucracy (bakufu) against all comers. The bakufu organized special police squads, notably the Shinsengumi and the Mimawarigumi, to "defend public order" and assassinate opponents. (In popular culture, they are all lumped together as the Shinsengumi.) Covert violence and even open warfare were commonplace.

The movie covers 1866 and 1867. It tells the story of a retired samurai, Kumosuke (or Kumo, for short), who is living quietly, not to say idly, in Edo (old Tokyo) with his wife and two children, a young boy named Shinnosuke and an infant girl, Ohana. While he nominally runs a courier business to earn a living, he seems to spend most of his time smoking his pipe, drinking sake, and chasing women. The arrival of a Shinsengumi squad led by a young swordswman, Ichimonji Hyougo, disrupts this peaceful routine. Kumo is forced to use his still-sharp sword skills to defend himself, but he'd basically prefer to stay out of the treacherous political currents. Nonetheless, he ends up saving Ryouma Sakamoto (a famous Westernizer) from the Shinsengumi and teaching Ichimonji the futility of the warrior way.

Despite the overlay of dramatic historical events, Haguregumo is basically a comedy about family. The central theme is the struggle of Kumo's son, Shinnosuke, to understand what it means to grow up and be a man in such a turbulent world. Kumo seems like an odd and neglectful father - cheating at chess, letting his son take a real samurai sword to a kids' fight - but in fact, he's trying to steer Shinnosuke through the crises of childhood without being overly constraining or prescriptive. He wants Shinnosuke to define his own path in life. Interactions with friends, a confrontation with bullies, a chance meeting with Ryouma, Ryouma's eventual assassination - all these mundane and extraordinary events help Shinnosuke understand the possibilities and perils of the future, as well as the need to be a child for a while longer.

The comedy often takes a bawdy turn. Aside from Kumo's womanizing (he's an inveterate butt-groper), there's an ongoing gag about his wife Okiyo's desire for a share of his amorous attentions:

Kumo is willing enough, but their trysts are perpetually interrupted by everyday life: children in crisis, children wanting attention, nosy friends, and so on. At one point, when Okiyo suggests a daytime "date," Kumo casually asks if they can try matsubakuzushi (translated as "the cross"), one of the classic 48 sex positions. This did not get an onscreen translation note...

The voice cast of Haguregumo belongs to an earlier era. Yamashiro Shingo, who played Kumo, has few modern credits. Kawashima Chiyoko, who played his wife, is best known to me as the ballet-dancer-turned-judo-practitioner Fujiko in Yawara! from the late 1980s. On the other hand, Furuya Tohru, who had the supporting role of Ichimonji, should be well known to Orphan's fans as Kosaku in Stop!! Hibari-kun and Bavi Stock in Bavi Stock. He's better known, of course, for playing the lead male roles in Kimagure Orange Road and Sailor Moon. Inoue Makio, who had a supporting role as Ryouma, went on to play Captain Harlock in many of the Galaxy Express properties and Goemon in the Lupin III movies and the first two TV series. The director, Masaki Mori, was a veteran of Tezuka Osamu's Mushi Productions. He also directed Barefoot Gen and Toki no Tabibito: Time Stranger.

I quite enjoyed Haguregumo. You can get it from the usual torrent sources and, eventually, from the Saizen IRC bot on

1 comment:

  1. Furuya Tohru is also Amuro Ray from Mobile Suit Gundam.

    Arguably one of the most iconic roles in anime.