Samurai Champloo サムライチャンプルー : Hip-hop; indigenous Ryukyu Anime

Samurai Champloo サムライチャンプルー is the name of the Anime television series in 2004-2005 that has proven to be one of the most globally popular in Japanese entertainment history. For one reason, anime–the Japanese animation story-telling genre, is now more global. It is one of the few things that are recognizably Japanese and enjoyed by Europeans, much of Eastern Asia and in the United States and Central and South America.

However, another element that has made it popular is its use of hip-hop music and cultural themes, along with Okinawan indigenous traditions including spiritual themes. It is truly a fusion work. And like much of anime in Japan, there are commentaries on the past and the future in the present, spiritual paths, human and spiritual and ecological values, tradition and modernity.

Samurai Champloo is ground-breaking in some ways, combining the traditional story-telling with slapstick comedy and hip-hop with indigeneity. The story unfolds–during the Edo period, or Tokugawa era (1603-1868), mixing punk culture references; censorship issues of the period–for example: by DJ hip-hop ‘scratching’ replacing the topics that were censored during the Tokugawa government; and  graffiti art and rap with hip-hop beats accompanying the scenes, bringing different histories into harmony. Past and present, youth and ancestors, ‘history as now’ play together for a modern young audience. Factual historical events, people and ideas of the Tokugawa period are the backdrop.

The story: Two independent warrior-men, very different from each other: One a wild and rough-hewn man and the other one who is refined and graceful and was trained by one of the top samurai teachers of the period, are thrown together in a fight where they are sentenced by the authorities for execution. They are helped to escape by a flighty woman Fuu, who tells them of a man she must find who ‘has the fragrance of sunflowers.” This fascinates the two fighters and they are made to promise her not to fight and to help her find him. The incredible journey begins…..

The story is filled with nature spirits who assist and watch them, guides and other aspects of indigenous spiritualities of the Ryukyu and Southern Japanese histories, long suppressed by dominant powers in Japanese history from before the Edo period. Life and death, secrets, transformations, violence, memory……..

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