Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bakumatsu no Spasibo

Yet another project that began in the deep, dark past. Bakumatsu no Spasibo (Gratitude in the Bakumatsu) is a 1997 movie about Russian admiral Yevfimy Vasilyevich Putyatin's second voyage to Japan in 1854-55. During that mission, he negotiated the Treaty of Shimoda, which opened relations between Japan and Russia. From what I can tell, M74 encoded a rip of the VHS tape in the summer of 2017. Moho Kareshi delivered an initial script in 2018. In early 2019, glenn tinkered with the timing and the translation, and then ninjacloud retimed it. And there the project sat until this summer, when our good friends at Inka suggested a joint project to finish up the film. Off we went, and here is the result.

Putyatin's mission was a Russian foreign policy initiative intended to blunt the impact of Commodore Matthew Perry's American expedition to open Japan. Putyatin first reached Japan in 1853. However, the arrival of the Americans and their gunboat diplomacy had thrown the Japanese government (the Shogunate) into an uproar, and Putyatin was unable to conclude a treaty. He returned in 1854, anchoring at Shimoda, to begin serious negotiations.

However, the massive Ansei Tokai earthquake led to a a huge tsunami that sank most of Putyatin's ships. The Diana was spun around 42 times and badly damaged. It sank as it sailed to Heda for repairs, stranding Putyatin and his crew in Japan. Despite the setbacks, Putyatin continued negotiating and brought the talks to a successful conclusion. In addition, his crew worked with Japanese shipwrights to build a ship capable of taking him and his crew home. 

Like other historical films, Bakumatsu no Spasibo is an earnest affair, with lots of scenes of serious men talking in small rooms, interspersed with interactions between the curious Russians and the flabbergasted Japanese populace. The movie has a blizzard of characters on both the Japanese and Russian side; most have only a few lines and then vanish. The exceptions are Admiral Putyatin himself; his Japanese negotiating partner, Kawaji Toshiakira; the master shipbuilder who constructs the replacement ship, Oaki Kakichi; and his son, Oaki Kikusaburou (Kiku), who acts as the audience surrogate for the events surrounding the foreigners' arrival. There is some manufactured tension, but by and large, the movie tries to demonstrate that the relationship between Russia and Japan was harmonious from the get-go. Of course, this viewpoint ignores the fact that Russia and Japan fought four wars during the next hundred years, and that Japan disputes Russia's possession of the Kurile Islands to this day, citing the Treaty of Shimoda.

The script is a treasure-trove of research on events and people; here are a few of the more interesting points:

  • Perry allegedly gave the Japanese two white flags so they could surrender. The Historical Science Society of Japan and twenty other historical associations in Japan came to the conclusion that the documentation concerning the flags is questionable and unverified.
  • The dimensions of the Diana are described in ken, a traditional unit of Japanese measurement. A ken is a little less than 2 meters.
  • Some Russian words are left untranslated: zdravstvuyte (здравствуйте), hello; spasibo (cпасибо), thank you; horosho (хорошо), wonderful. Don't ask me why.
  • The song that the Russian sailors sing at 51:31 is a famous "folk" song, Kalinka. The translation (courtesy of Nemesis) is:
Ah, under the pine, the green one
Lay me down to sleep!
Rock-a-bye, baby, rock-a-bye, baby
Lay me down to sleep!
Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
In the garden, little raspberry, raspberry, raspberry of mine!
Ah, gorgeous, pretty maiden
Please, love me!
Rock-a-bye, baby, rock-a-bye, baby
Please, love me!

Little snowberry, snowberry, snowberry of mine!
In the garden, little raspberry, raspberry, raspberry of mine! 
Be warned: the song is an earworm.

The voice cast includes:

  • Katou Seizou (Admiral Putyatin) played Ii Naosuke in Hidamari no Ki, Abraham in Tezuka Osamu's Tales from the Old Testament, Norbert in Apfelland Monogatari, Hatsutori Juuzou in Kage, Billy Bones in Shin Takarajima, and Jeigan in Fire Emblem, all Orphan releases. He had many other featured roles in the span of a 50 year career.
  • Arikawa Hiroshi (Kawaji Toshiakira) played Grandpa Kaga in Usagi Drop and Cal in Run! White Wolf, an Orphan release. He narrated the Letter Bee series.
  • Maruta Mari (Oaki Kikusaburou, or Kiku) played Ishmael as a boy in Tezuka Osamu's Tales of the Old Testament, an Orphan release. She appeared in Beck, Green Legend Ran, Inukami!, Kiku to Lala, Maps, Matchless Raijin-Oh, and Ninku.
  • Naka Yousuke (Oaki Kakichi, the master shipbuilder) appeared in 21 Emon, Doraemon, Kentoshi, and Ninku. He played Furune in Izumo, an Orphan release.
  • Okano Kousuke (Matsushiro Kumasaburou) played Hanabishi Recca in Flame of Recca, Nakamura Kenta in the Initial D franchise, Oburi in Kite, Son Goku in the Saiyuki OVA, and Aqua in the Jewelpet franchise.
  • Ooyama Takao (Ueda Torakichi) played Igor in Don Dracula. He appeared in The Green Cat and Techno Police 21C, both Orphan releases.
  • Satou Yuri (Oota Nami) appeared in Porco Rosso, Davide no Hoshi, and Ninku.

The director, Dezaki Satoshii, founded the Magic Bus animation studio. His extensive resume includes Time Slip Ichimannen Prime Rose, Tobira o Akete, Kasei Yakyoku, Yuukan Club, Yume Kakeru Kougan, and Boyfriend, all Orphan releases, as well as the Legend of the Galactic Heroes series and movies, the Urusei Yatsura OVAs, Riki-ou, and many other classics.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the credits for Bakumatsu no Spasibo are quite tangled. As best I can tell, Yume (Inka) did the translation, building on Moho Kareshi's (freelance) original script. glenn (freelance) did the first pass at timing, while ninjacloud (Orphan) did all the subsequent passes. TougeWolf (Inka) translation checked, did an initial edit, and release checked. I did the final edit, typesetting, and a second release check. Nemesis (Orphan), Uchuu (Orphan), and VigorousJammer (both) QCed. M74 (Orphan) encoded from a VHS rip by Intrepid (Orphan). So it's a joint Orphan and Inka release.

The tape itself was protected with Macrovision (curses!), so it couldn't be ripped on Intrepid's non-compressing setup. As a result, there are a lot of blended frames. There has never been a laserdisc or digital release.

So here at last is Bakumatsu no Spasibo, intended as a testament to a Russo-Japanese amity that never existed and still doesn't. You can get the release from the usual torrent site or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on


  1. Thank you very much for the release of this rarity. I've been waiting for a decent copy of this film for 12 years.

    Concerning the ship Heda built in Japan, you can find more info in Wikipeida:

    As for the commentary, there are some mistakes. I can see few of them right away.

    "The Russian squadron, led by the flagship Diana, reached Japan in 1853."

    That's wrong: it was led by flagship Pallada.
    Diana was sent to replace Pallada later. It sailed form Kronstadt on October 4th, 1853 and reached Japan in Fall 1854.
    Concerning the "squadron", I am not quite sure, but it seems that Pallada was accomponied by only one support ship Vostok:

    "However, the massive Ansei Tokai earthquake led to a a huge tsunami that sank most of Putyatin's ships."

    That's wrong: Diana was the only Putyatin's ship during his second mission in Japan.

    "Konstantin Posyet (original French name Possiet) is portrayed as part of Putyatin's officer corps on the Diana. In fact, he was on a different ship, the Pallas."

    That's wrong: Konstantin Posyet did accompany Putyatin during his second mission in Japan serving as Putyatin's assitant and interpreter. (Negotiations were conducted in Dutch.) The fact is even mentioned in Ivan Goncharov's book 'Frigate "Pallada"' - in the piece called "Twenty Years On".
    The thing is, when Diana and Pallada met in July 1854 in Chikhachev Bay, most people involved in the mission moved from Pallada to Diana. (While Goncharov left on Vostok and returned to Russia.)

    "horosho (хорошо), wonderful"

    To be accurate, it means "[it's] good" or "OK".

    "The song that the Russian sailors sing at 51:31 is a famous folk song, Kalinka."

    The song is widely believed to be a folk song, but it actually has an author.
    Moreover, it was written in 1860, that is, 5-6 years after the events of the film. Using it in the film makes it an anachronism.
    But the film on the whole is not historically accurate.

    There is also an issue with the dates mentioned in the film. For example, at 01:18:19 there is a date that looks like March 22nd. It is also repeated orally at 01:19:23. But Heda ship actually left Japan on May 8th. I guess the discrepancy was caused by the fact that lunisolar Chinese calendar was used in Japan before 1873. So it is actually the 22nd day of the 3rd month of lunisolar calendar rather than the 22nd of March of Gregorian calendar. Quoting Wikipedia: "The old Japanese calendar was an adjusted lunar calendar based on the Chinese calendar, and the year—and with it the months—started anywhere from about 3 to 7 weeks later than the modern year"

  2. I've checked an article on the topic and found out I was partly wrong concerning the "squadron": 14 days before Pallada arrived in Nagasaki she was joined by two more Russian ships. Thus the squadron consisted of 4 ships at the time.

    And one more correction.

    Snowberry is Symphoricarpos:
    And in the song a different plant is mentioned, namely guelder rose (viburnum opulus):

    And a minor clarification:
    "However, the arrival of the Americans and their gunboat diplomacy had thrown the Japanese government (the Shogunate) into an uproar, and Putyatin was unable to conclude a treaty."

    That was not the only reason. Right before Putyatin's first arrival in Japan shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi died:
    Japanese used that as an excuse to postpone the negotiations.

    1. According to Wikipedia, the Ansei tsunami destroyed multiple ships in Putyatin's squadron: "A 7-meter-high tsunami destroyed much of Shimoda including Putyatin's ships, with exception of Diana, which was badly damaged and sank soon afterwards at nearby Heda."

    2. @Collectr
      Don't blindly trust Wikipedia. Sometimes it contains mistakes. In this case the articles in English are definitely wrong on the matter. The corresponding articles in Russian mention Diana as the only ship. Please check this if you can:,_%D0%95%D0%B2%D1%84%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%B9_%D0%92%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87
      Anyway, what matters most are not some articles in Wikipedia but reliable sources. Please specify reliable sources that mention Diana was accompanied by some other ships when Putyatin arrived at the port of Shimoda. When I get back home today, I'll be able to specify some articles published in historical journals stating that Diana was the only ship at the time, but they are all in Russian. The articles are based on Putyatin's own reports.
      And I already mentioned Goncharov's book 'Frigate "Pallada"' which is basically documental. (I don't know if it was ever translated to English though.) Goncharov did not present on Diana, but 20 years later he was invited to a special meeting to commemorate the mission and at that meeting the witnesses who he was on friendly terms with told him the whole story. Thus, Goncharov's book is a reliable source. And in his book Diana is mentioned as the only ship.
      Speaking of the books, there are also books 'Tsunami', 'Shimoda' and 'Heda' by Russian writer Nikolai Zadornov which describe the events in question. The books are a work of fiction but they are based on documental materials, both Russian and Japanese. Zadornov visited Japan while collecting materials for his books and got support from Japanese authorities on that. (By the way, the books were then published in Japan.) Sure thing, Zadornov mentions Diana as the only ship during Putyatin's second visit to Japan.
      Besides, in Russian Central Naval Museum there are some drawings made by Alexander Mozhaysky who was one of the heroes of the story. (The man with a photo camera, making daguerreotype in the film.) You can find some of his drawings for example here:
      The drawings 3-6 and 8 were made by Mozhaysky. Those are drawings made by a witness of events. On drawing 5 you can see frigate Diana in Shimoda bay. (Apparently, before the earthquake.) As you can see it is the only European type ship in the bay. And if you can read Russian you can read the text in the above mentioned reference and find out once again that Diana was the only ship. Unlike Wikipedia, the text is based on reliable sources specified at its end, including historical documents from the archives of the museum.

    3. Here are the names of the articles I was referring to:

      В.Р. Чепелев. Шхуна "Хэда" - "бабушка" японского флота
      (V.R. Chepelev. Schooner 'Heda' - 'grandmother' of Japanese Fleet)


      And last not the least, Shintaro Nakamura's book 'Japanese and Russians. On the history of contacts'
      (Russian translation: Синтаро Накамура. Японцы и русские. Из истории контактов)

      Shintaro Nakamura explains that Putyatin had only one ship (Diana) during his second mission so as not to attract the attention of enemy fleets.