Friday, March 8, 2013

Re-search: the Eastern Western

Chambara or chanbara describes a genre of Japanese cinema: specifically, what most of us would likely call "Samurai movies." The name literally refers to "sword-fighting" movies; someone saying that they like chambara would be in many ways like an American saying they liked Westerns.

I didn't know this term until I stumbled across this delightful re-envisioning of the Justice League by illustrator Alex Mitchell:

(Here's the original deviantart page and full-meal-deal on Project Rooftop)

Like other good cross-genre interpretations, the designs seek to find the key, core elements of each character and manifest them through different tropes. "A child of dragons, raised by peasants" is perhaps the most economical re-imagining of Superman to 17th century Japan: it captures his alienness, his power, and his grounding in the common man. I'll let you explore the materials yourself, and you really should; both the concepts and executions are consistently wonderful.

One illustration in particular caught my eye: that of the chambara Wonder Woman. There was some dim echo in my brain as I looked at the image, and I couldn't let it go. My google-fu was strong enough to eventually track down the source of the tickle:

I don't know where I would have run into the image on the right: 19th century Japanese woodblock artists are not usually on my radar, and this is Ishi-jo, wife of Oboshi Yoshio, one of the "47 loyal ronin," an 1848 print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the series Seichi Gishin Den. (Thanks, wikipedia.) The resemblance is certainly striking.

I don't know that Mitchell used this image a reference; it's likely that he did, since Ishi-jo was an onna-bugeisha, a sort-of female samurai from the upper class, a description which certainly fits the character of Lady Incredible. Whether or not this particular image was the source, Mitchell's re-creation of its sensibility, or rather his blending of that sensibility with a Western comic-book aesthetic, is extraordinary.

I just love this whole work, exquisitely detailed in idea and image, and it deserves a wide audience.


  1. How can something this lovely have existed in my own metaphorical backyard for all this time without me ever hearing about it until now?

    Mitchell's version has all the taste and subtlety and appropriateness that every other translation I've seen of American superheroes into mock-Japanese style has lacked. As everyone else has said, this is the one I'd like to read about. (And the suggestions made on deviantArt for additional characters are none too shabby as well.)

  2. As the young folks say: "I know, right?" Do a Google search for "Rockabilly Batman" (if you haven't already seen it) for another fine effort, but it isn't a patch on this masterpiece.