On April 12, the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club invited me to discuss my western steampunk novel Lightning Wolves at their monthly meeting. Many of the book club members pointed to Masuda Hoshi as one of their favorite characters. He’s a former samurai who left Japan to farm green chilies in New Mexico and was inspired by such real life Japanese farmers as Kuniji Tashiro and John Nakayama. Unlike the real life Japanese farmers (as far as I know), Hoshi is hired by the army to track down an outlaw who steals a lightning gun which was being developed to fight the Russian invasion of 1877.
A couple of the book club members suggested I might like the 1972 Western movie Red Sun starring Charles Bronson as an outlaw named Link Stuart who teams up with the samurai Kuroda Jubie, played by Toshiro Mifune, to recover a stolen, golden katana meant as a gift for President Grant. The film was directed by Terence Young, noted for directing several James Bond films including Dr. No and Thunderball.
The movie was a lot of fun, particularly since I’m a fan of both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Although the samurai of the former and the gunmen of the latter aren’t exactly analogs of one another, Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo and Charles Bronson’s Bernardo O’Reilly share similar traits. So it was great to see them on screen together and playing off each other. The two clearly had a great time.
Red Sun does perpetuate a couple of historical misunderstandings. Perhaps most jarring to me, the movie implied samurai were unfamiliar with firearms. In fact, firearms go all the way back to the 13th century in Japan, and their use became widespread in the 16th when European firearms were introduced.
Also of interest, they referred to the emperor as “the Mikado.” I’m sure fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will recognize the title. It turns out it’s a bit mysterious how the word “Mikado” came into the English language. In fact, the word does not mean “Emperor” as they say in the movie. It refers to the gates of the Imperial Palace. I can easily imagine this mix-up happening between two people not entirely familiar with each others’ languages.
Although not related to samurai or Japanese culture, I was disappointed by the portrayal of the Comanches in the movie. In essence, they’re just like the Orcs of fantasy—agents of chaos, there to cause trouble when trouble needs causing. I would have liked at least a superficial reason for their raids in the movie, but that’s perhaps asking a lot of a 1972 Western.
Despite those issues, the movie has great costuming, wonderful location work, and, as I’ve mentioned already, the interplay between Bronson and Mifune is wonderful to watch.
Speaking of samurai, I’m nearly finished polishing The Brazen Shark, sequel to Lightning Wolves. If all goes as expected, the book will be sent to the publisher before the week is out.