I was recently invited along to a performance of samurai sword craft in Mitaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. The invite came from Mone Ohashi, a ballet dancer I recently shot some pictures with. Mone was performing in the event, too.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. From what I could see on the invitation, the venue was a small basement room in Mitaka. I’d heard about Tetsuro Shimaguchi before, from his work on the first Kill Bill movie. It was his event. I wasn’t entirely sure what part Mone would be taking.
I found the place pretty easily, close to Mitaka station and already full of people by the time I got there. I took one of the three vacant seats, at the very back of the room, and settled down.
The performance kicked-off with a stirring, emotive piece of music that was reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for the Last Samurai. I love that soundtrack. I love Zimmer’s work in general. But the Last Samurai soundtrack is something I remember listening to a lit in the last few weeks of my father’s life and after that, in the run-up to moving to Japan.
Superb music was to be a theme of the evening’s performance, as various of the players combined in ‘sketches’ to illustrate components of the samurai’s art and place in Japanese folklore.
There was the mother defending her young son against attackers. The son then gets trained by a lady samurai, played by Hiromi Matsumura – who is one of Shimaguchi’s core performers and a stunning practitioner of katana. This sketch brought a lump to my throat.
Mone came on as the young lover/girlfriend/wife of a man who was beset on all sides with samurai. Both Mone and her love die at the hands of the swordsmen during this sketch, which was beautifully played out again with superb musical accompaniment. I’m a total sucker for music, visuals and this sort of atmosphere. Hence, I was in tears by this point.
I’m totally content being a sad, old sentimentalist who cries when the snowman melts at the end of Raymond Briggs’ classic animated film. Or, in this case, who succumbs to the combined emotional onslaught of spectacular performance skills, swordsmanship, Japanese exoticism, great music and the cosy anonymity of a dark room.
The whole event was a wondrous counterpoint to having been out all the day teaching and walking in the cold in modern Tokyo.
The talk at the end of the performance was wonderfully informative, light-hearted and a great way to round-off the whole event.
I met and spoke with Shimaguchi-sensei after the event and hope, sometime soon, to team up with him for some photos. He’s a lovely guy: warm-hearted, talented, humble and with presence and poise. Just like all the samurai I have met and worked with in Japan, a lot of whom I shot for a feature in this year’s Mercedes-AMG magazine [which you can see here].
Samurai are a group of people I never tire of being around. Not sure I’d have been able to say the same thing in 1716….. when they’d have been out for my head! I’m glad for the way times have changed.
Pictures from the event all shot with Nikon D3S, in-camera monochrome using predominantly my Monochrome HC-01 Picture Control. Lens was a 135mm f/2 AF-DC. Everything was up around 3200ISO and shot at f/2