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Jidaigeki film


Jidaigeki film

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Jidaigeki (時代劇) is a genre of film and television or theater play in Japan. The name means period drama, and the period is usually the Edo period of Japanese history which was from 1600 to 1868. Some, however, are set much earlier — Portrait of Hell, for example, is set during the late Heian period. Jidaigeki show the lives of the samurai, farmers, craftsmen and merchants of this time. Jidaigeki films are sometimes referred to as chambara movies, a word meaning "sword fight". They have a set of dramatic conventions including the use of makeup, language, catchphrases, and plotlines.


Kinds of Jidaigeki

Actor Kotaro Satomi as Mito Kōmon Actor Kotaro Satomi as Mito Kōmon

Many jidaigeki take place in Edo, the military capital. Others show the adventures of people wandering from place to place. The long-running television series Zenigata Heiji and Abarenbo Shogun typify the Edo jidaigeki. Mito Kōmon, the fictitious story of the travels of the historical daimyo Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and the Zatoichi movies and television series, exemplify the travelling style.

Another way to categorize jidaigeki is according to the social status of the principal characters. The title character of Abarenbo Shogun is Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun. The head of the samurai class, Yoshimune assumes the disguise of a low-ranking hatamoto, a samurai in the service of the shogun. Similarly, Mito Kōmon is the retired vice-shogun, accompanied by two samurai retainers while masquerading as a merchant. In contrast, the coin-throwing Heiji of Zenigata Heiji is a commoner, working for the police, while Ichi (the title character of Zatoichi), a masseur, is an outcast. Gokenin Zankurō is a samurai, but due to his low rank and income, he has to work extra jobs that higher-ranking samurai were unaccustomed to do.

Whether the lead role is samurai or commoner, jidaigeki usually reach a climax in an immense sword fight just before the end. The title character of a series always wins, whether using a sword or a jitte (the device police used to trap, and sometimes to bend or break, an opponent's sword).

Roles in Jidaigeki

Jidaigeki are a parade of people with occupations unfamiliar to modern Japanese, and especially to foreigners. Here are a few.


A group of mounted warriors in Ran. A group of mounted warriors in Ran.

The warrior class included samurai, hereditary members in the military service of a daimyo or the shogun (themselves samurai). Rōnin, samurai without masters, were also warriors, and like samurai, wore two swords; they were, however, without inherited employment or status. Bugeisha were men who aimed to perfect their martial arts, often by travelling throughout the country. Ninja were the secret service, specializing in stealth, the use of disguises, explosives, and concealed weapons.


Craftsmen in jidaigeki included metalworkers (often abducted to mint counterfeit coins), bucket-makers, carpenters and plasterers, and makers of woodblock prints for art or newspapers.


In addition to the owners of businesses large and small, the jidaigeki often portray the employees. The bantō was a high-ranking employee of a merchant, the tedai, a lower helper. Many merchants employed children, or kozō.


In the highest ranks of the shogunate were the rojū. Below them were the wakadoshiyori, then the various bugyō or administrators, including the jisha bugyō (who administered temples and shrines), the kanjō bugyō (in charge of finances) and the two Edo machi bugyō. These last alternated by month in the role of chief administrator of the city. Their role was mayor, chief of police, and judge, and jury in criminal and civil matters.

Ban'ya, Toei Uzumasa Studios Ban'ya, Toei Uzumasa Studios

The machi bugyō oversaw the police and fire departments. The police, or machikata, included the high-ranking yoriki and the dōshin below them; both were samurai. In jidaigeki, they often have full-time patrolmen, okappiki and shitappiki, who were commoners. (Historically, these people were irregulars, called to service only when necessary.) Zenigata Heiji is an okappiki. The police lived in barracks at Hatchōbori in Edo. They manned ban'ya, the watch-houses, throughout the city that had a million residents. The jitte was the symbol of the police, from yoriki to shitappiki.

A separate police force handled matters involving samurai. The ōmetsuke were high-ranking officials in the shogunate, and controlled a group of metsuke and kachi-metsuke who could detain samurai. The feudal nature of Japan made these matters delicate, and jurisdictional disputes are common in jidaigeki.

Edo had three fire departments. The daimyo-bikeshi were in the service of designated daimyo; the jōbikeshi reported to the shogunate; while the machi-bikeshi, beginning under Yoshimune, were commoners under the administration of the machibugyō. Thus, even the fire companies have turf wars in the jidaigeki.

Licensed quarter on a set at Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto Licensed quarter on a set at Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto

Each daimyo maintained a residence in Edo, where he lived during sankin kotai. His wife and children remained there even while he was away from Edo, and the ladies-in-waiting often feature prominently in jidaigeki. A high-ranking samurai, the Edo-garō, oversaw the affairs in the daimyo's absence. In addition to a staff of samurai, the household included ashigaru (lightly armed warrior-servants) and chūgen and yakko (servants often portrayed as flamboyant and crooked). Many daimyo employed doctors, goten'i; their counterpart in the shogun's household was the okuishi. Count on them to provide the poisons that kill and the potions that heal.

The cast of a wandering jidaigeki encountered a similar setting in each han. There, the karō were the kuni-garō and the jōdai-garō. Tensions between them have provided plots for many stories.

What would a jidaigeki be without characters to give the flavor of the times? Jugglers, pedlars, fortune-tellers, candy-sellers, rag-pickers, blind moneylenders, itinerant singer/shamisen-players, effete courtiers from the imperial capital at Kyoto, the Dutch kapitan from Nagasaki, streetwalkers and prostitutes from the licensed and unlicensed quarters, the million-dollar kabuki actor, flute-playing mendicant Buddhist priests wearing deep wicker hats, and of course geisha, provide a never-ending pageant of old Japan.


There are several dramatic conventions of jidaigeki:

  • The heroes often wear eye makeup, and the villains often have disarranged hair.
  • A fake form of old-fashioned Japanese speech supposed to represent the old style of the language is used.
  • In long-running TV series, like Mito Kōmon and Zenigata Heiji, the lead and supporting actors sometimes change. This is done without any rationale for the change of appearance. The new actor simply appears in the place of the old one and the stories continue.
  • In a sword fight, absurdly, when a large number of villains attacks the main character, they never act simulaneously. Instead, the villains each politely wait their turn to be dispatched, often standing motionless holding their sword within easy striking distance of the main character until their turn to be easily defeated arrives.
  • On television, even fatal sword cuts never draw blood, or even cut through clothing. Villains are chopped down with deadly, yet completely invisible, sword blows. Despite this, blood or wounding may be shown for arrow wounds or knife cuts.
  • On film, most often the violence is considerably stylized, sometimes to such a degree that sword cuts cause geysers of blood from wounds. High amounts of dismemberment and decapitations are also common.

Clichés and catchphrases

Authors of jidaigeki grasp every opportunity to work clichés into the dialog. Here are a few:

  • Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi: Like bugs that fly into the fire in the summer [, they will come to their destruction]
  • Shishi shinchū no mushi: A wolf in sheep's clothing (literally, a parasite in the lion's body)
  • Kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana: Fires and brawls are the flower of Edo
  • Ōedo happyaku yachō: "The eight hundred neighborhoods of Edo"
  • Tabi wa michizure: "Travel is who you take with you"

In addition, the authors of series invent their own clichés in the kimarizerifu (catchphrases) that the protagonist says at the same point in nearly every episode. In Mito Kōmon, in which the eponymous character disguises himself as a commoner, in the final swordfight, a sidekick invariably holds up an accessory bearing the shogunal crest and shouts, Hikae! Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairan ka?: "Back! Can you not see this emblem?", revealing the identity of the hitherto unsuspected old man with a goatee beard. The villains then instantly surrender and beg forgiveness. Likewise, Tōyama no Kin-san bares his tattooed shoulder and snarls, Kono sakura fubuki o miwasureta to iwasane zo!: "I won't let you say you forgot this cherry-blossom blizzard!" After sentencing the criminals, he proclaims, Kore ni te ikken rakuchaku: "Case closed."

The kimarizerifu betrays the close connection between the jidaigeki and the comic-book superhero.

Famous Jidaigeki


Kurama Tengu series
Tange Sazen series
The Seven Samurai
Zatoichi film series
Miyamoto Musashi trilogy
Yagyu Ichizoku no Imbo
Hanzo the Razor series
Lone Wolf and Cub series
Lady Snowblood
Tasogare Seibei (Twilight Samurai)
Mibu gishi den (When the Last Sword Is Drawn)

Television series

Kita Machi Bugyō-sho, Toei Uzumasa Studios Kita Machi Bugyō-sho, Toei Uzumasa Studios

Abarenbo Shogun
Ude ni Oboe ga Aru
Edo o Kiru
Ōedo Sōsamō
Ōoka Echizen
Onihei Hanka-chō
Onmitsu Kenshi (The Samurai (TV show))
Kage Dōshin
Kage no Gundan
Gokenin Zankurō
Kenkaku Shōbai
Zatoichi (television series)
Sambiki ga Kiru!
Shogun Iemitsu Shinobi Tabi
Shinsen gumi Keppūroku
Zenigata Heiji
Taiga drama (NHK annual series)
Chōshichirō Edo Nikki

Sento, Toei Uzumasa Studios Sento, Toei Uzumasa Studios

Tenamon'ya Sando-gasa
Tenga Gomen
Tenga Dōdō
Tōyama no Kin-san
Hissatsu series
Mito Kōmon
Moeyo Ken

Famous Directors

Names are in Western order, with the surname after the given name.

Akira Kurosawa
Masaki Kobayashi
Kihachi Okamoto
Kenji Mizoguchi
Kon Ichikawa
Tomu Uchida

Famous Actors and Actresses

Names are in Western order, with the surname after the given name.

Yoshimi Ashikawa
Kanjūrō Arashi
Shin'ichi Chiba (Sonny Chiba)
Makoto Fujita
Kimiko Ikegami
Kōji Ishizaka
Chiezo Kataoka
Shintarō Katsu
Morio Kazama
Kin'ya Kitaōji
Hitomi Kuroki
Machiko Kyô
Ken Matsudaira
Matsukata Hiroki
Keiko Matsuzaka
Toshirō Mifune
Kunihiko Mitamura
Hiroaki Murakami
Akira Nagoya
Tatsuya Nakadai
Kichiemon Nakamura
Umenosuke Nakamura
Kō Nishimura
Hashizō Ōkawa
Takashi Shimura
Teruhiko Saigō
Asao Sano
Kōtarō Satomi
Takashi Shimura
Ryōtarō Sugi
Hideki Takahashi
Reiko Takashima
Masakazu Tamura
Ryō Tamura
Takahiro Tamura
Sanae Tsuchida
Eijirō Tōno
Ken Watanabe
Kinnosuke Yorozuya
Yumi Kaoru
Hiroyuki Sanada
Koichi Sato
Masato Sakai


  • The term "Jedi" (as in Jedi Knight) from the Star Wars saga was derived from Jidaigeki by George Lucas as he was heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa.

External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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