Saturday, September 06, 2014

Shundou (蠢動) review (International Title: Bushido)

I happened to find out about this movie on the internet through one of my random searches.  Since I have a thing for samurai period films, I really wanted to know more about the video and if there were any reviews available.  After looking at the trailers, I tried to see if there was any information available in English, other than a synopsis of the movie, but came up empty handed.  I've even tried to ask people on Kendo World and Facebook, but nobody was able to provide any useful information about the quality of the film.  I even tried to preview the movie by downloading it, but the only options were shady websites where I could subscribe to a free trial, provided I supply my credit card information.  Since I care about retaining my financial status and I think it's wrong to potentially give money to a website that illegally streams movies.

In the end, I decided to just take the plunge and buy the movie.  The price tag was initially off-putting, but I justified the overall package and relative price of new collector's edition versions of movies in general.  I ended up getting the movie in the mail on Friday which, coincidentally, I happened to have to take off of work that day due to having a cold.

When I mentioned that I would go on ahead and buy the movie, I did get a request to tell someone how well I thought the movie was.  I felt that, instead of giving a short blurb about the movie on the Kendo Baka Facebook group, I could try my hand at making a detailed review of the movie and the packaging.  Also, there really isn't much in the way of an English-written review of the movie, so I thought I could provide something out there for this movie.  To be honest though, I don't write reviews that often, so I hope that what I write is useful enough in your decision to give this movie a shot.

 You can see more trailers on the official Youtube page here

Movie Title: 蠢動 (Shundou) --International title: Bushido
Director:  Yasuo Mikami
Format:  Blu-Ray (region-free)
Price Paid: 8,751 yen (including shipping to the USA)
Place Purchased From:  Amazon Japan
Official Website (Japanese)
**The most important thing about buying this movie is that, while there is a DVD version that is much cheaper than the Blu-Ray version, the DVD is only for Region 2 DVD players.  If you want to save a little money and purchase this movie, you will need to have a Region 2 player (Region map here) or a region free player.  The Blu-Ray version is region free, so you should be able to watch it on any player.

The collector's edition comes with two Blu-Ray disks, a book with some background information about an earlier version of this movie (released in 1982) and a promotional card which, I think, advertises that you get to meat the cast in November of this year in Tokyo and Osaka (my Japanese is a little rusty, so correct me if I'm mistaken).

The first Blu-Ray contains the feature film and 30 minutes worth of promotional trailers.  The movie includes English subtitles, which didn't have any glaring grammatical errors that would make the dialogue unintelligible.  The second Blu-Ray contains the 1982, non-subtitled version of this movie, made by the same director, filmed on a 16 mm camera, along with a three-hour "making of" extra that goes over the entire movie creation process from cast selection to choreography training to the filming of certain scenes.  I personally just skimmed over that segment, but what I saw was pretty interesting.  Whether or not you enjoy the extras depends on how much of a moviephile you are and how familiar you are with the pedigree of the movie and the producer, but it's nice to at least skim thorough them.

The quality of the main feature film is what I would expect from a Blu-Ray movie.  The video itself was very crisp and the audio made some decent use of the 5.1 surround sound.  The 16mm version of the film on the second disk had some funky frame rate issues throughout, but I'm willing to give that a pass since I'm sure that just going from an archaic, analog format to a digital Blu-Ray disk is hard enough.  It doesn't take away from the movie though, which is the most important.

The story, as described by the official Youtube page, is as follows:
In 1735, three years after the great famine of Kyoho, the feudal domain of Inaba in the San'in Region seemed to have regained a semblance of stability. However, Lord Deputy Minayoshi Araki (Go Wakabayashi) receives a report that Juzo Matsumiya (Yuuki Meguro) was dispatched from the shogunate to Inaba as an instructor of swordsmanship. Sensing something is wrong, Araki orders his right-hand man, Taigo Funase (Takeo Nakahara), to keep an eye on Matsumiya.
Also residing in the Inaba domain is a swordmastr named Daihachiro Harada (Takehiro Hira), a young samurai called Hiroki Kagawa (Tomohito Wakizaki) and his older sister Yuki (Tamao Sato). They lost their beloved father when they were young, but Harada strives to facilitate his young charge Kagawa's lifelong dream to train in swordsmanship in a neighboring domain. Funase reports to Araki that he has acquired a secret letter by Matsumiya to the shogunate. The letter cryptically states, "I have discovered all about the Inaba domain." Araki also hears that the shogun's envoy, Takamine Nishizaki (Asahi Kurizuka), is fast approaching the domain. If Nishizaki is able to liaise with Matsumiya, the Inaba domain will surely be eradicated by the shogunate. Araki must quickly make a fateful decision. What will this mean for Harada, Funase, Kagawa and Yuki...?

I was happy with the overall story.  You have a domain that's doing what they can to survive and a man whose life-long dream is to train in swordsmanship and carry along the traditions of Bushido.  While the movie is short on the action sequences, I was pleased with the choreography of the sword fights that was on display.  You might be disappointed if you're looking for fights every few minutes, but the overall package comes together nicely, which made the movie enjoyable for its 1:41 minute run time.

You can find Shundou on a variety of websites like Yes-Asia, eBay and Amazon.  After spending days looking at the movie on various websites, I found that the cheapest option was Amazon Japan for the Blu-Ray.  If you wanted to go cheaper and have the means to play the movie, you could buy the DVD, but I can't be certain if there are subtitles available for that copy.  If you also happen to be looking for an iaito, you could buy the premium package from Tozando, which includes the Blu-Ray collector's edition and the iaito that was featured in the movie.

Overall, while the movie is a bit pricey considering the movie and producer isn't that well known outside of Japan, I still recommend a purchase.  There is a chance the the movie could drop in price over time, as most things do, but since the Shundou was only released a month ago to home video, it could be a while.  There is quite a bit packed in the whole package which, to me, justifies the price tag.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kendo Klub Duties

Dojo leaders helping their students prepare for the Cleveland Kendo Tournament

Through my final days of attending Purdue six years ago (heck, even WAY before then, in a sense), I knew that I wanted to move to a location that had Kendo available (my potential locations were the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland and Cincinnati, OH).  In the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to take on some sort of a leadership position with whatever club I would belong to, but I felt that it would be a few years before I would be able to do something like that.  When I think about it, part of it had something to do with me not really having the confidence to take the leadership roles in anything in my childhood.  The other part had to do with a sort of naivete when it comes to what is really necessary to be a good leader in the Kendo world.  My expectation was that I would be required to have X rank or X amount of experience to be able to contribute anything meaningful to the day to day running of local Kendo organizations.  Regardless of what I was thinking at the time, I quickly found out that what I believed, and what reality is, are two completely different things.

Not long after I moved to Cincinnati, I became a member of the University of Cincinnati Kendo Club (UCKC(.  Since I had the extra time on my hands, the desire to get better, and had more relative experience than most of my peers at the time, I ended up leading the practices at that club, and the nearby Northern Kentucky Kendo Club (NKKC), of which I was also a frequent attendee.  Little did I know that, from there, my responsibilities would only increase.  Due to the sudden absence of the secretary of the East Central United States Kendo Federation (ECUSKF), I ended up becoming the new secretary--well, more like drafted :).  After that, I started running the warm-ups for the Miami Valley Kendo Club and then became an officer for the promotion exams that are given semi-annually.

Of course, I had no problem with taking on these responsibilities.  Being a single person in my 20s with a 9-5, Monday through Friday job, I had the extra time on my hands to take on these additional roles.  I also like to be able to help out whenever and wherever I'm able to.  In the end, I think being responsible for these things has turned out to be quite beneficial to me.  I've learned some things about what it takes to be a leader in various aspects in my life, and I've learned a lot about what it takes to bring the Kendo that people know, expect and love.  It's certainly a lot of work, but I'm glad to be a part of it.  What I didn't know was that, years down the line, I would be given a responsibility that I really would never expect.

A few months ago, the previous leader of the Northern Kentucky Kendo Club told me that he has been too busy in recent months to effectively run the club and was seeing if anyone was willing to take over for him.  The other person in the club wasn't able to do it so, instead of just letting the club die off, I decided that I would take over as the leader.  Little did anyone know that he would eventually get a new job in another location in the US.  On top of the responsibilities that I have been given over the years, now I am running a Kendo club.  The good news is that, due to my past experiences, I'm more familiar with how to run a club and I have some ideas on how to keep this particular club going.

One problem with NKKC is that the club is very small.  At the moment, there is only one person that's officially signed up and a paying member of the club.  The first thing I need to do is try to increase the visibility of the club.  There are some web pages and a Facebook group I can take advantage of and some avenues of advertisement at the moment, but I still need to get everything set up.  Overall, the goal is to try to make the club more self-sustaining and be able to pass off the responsibilities to those that are willing and, at best, take a more advisory role in how the club is run.  There are some other things that I know is getting in my way, but that's better left for a different, and more controversial, article.

I'm also involved with Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido which, due to the previous leader moving, I am the only member practicing.  On top of the problems with bringing in more Kendo people, the nature of Iaido, and the fact that I'm the only person doing it, makes it a difficult thing to sell to the masses.  The good news is that there are people that are currently practicing Kendo in the area that's interested.  The problem is finding the time and place to be able to get a group going and perhaps have Iaido knowledge grow that way.

In the end, I'm very grateful to have the opportunities to do what I have been able to do thus far.  I've been able to learn a lot about what I am capable of and I've been very fortunate to have the ability to allow my ideas to be heard, as meek as I have been in the past.  With all of this, I think one of the most important lessons of my adult life has been imparted on me.  There are some people that really work hard to get into leadership positions in life, and others that are comfortable just hiding in the background.  Whatever the case,  you could never know when those leadership responsibilities will be thrown at you and there's nothing that can be done other than dealing with it in the best way possible.
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