1/35 Matchlock Samurai Hiruko Hachirouta
Hayao Miyazaki has retired more times than I care to count (the first time I saw something about his desire to step down was in the wake of Porco Rosso) and so when, shortly after completing work on The Wind Rises, he once more declared an end to his film career it should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Master. For years, he’s always seemed one cigarette away from chronic emphysema, one acupuncture treatment away from crippling arthritis and one production deadline away from a fatal heart attack, yet nothing’s seemed able to stop him. That he always bounced back from his previous retirements had become something of a joke: Miyazaki was going to live, and work forever.
This time was a little different though….
There certainly was something tangible in Miyazaki in the summer of 2013 that suggested a more final withdrawal from the stage than before. In his early 70s, and increasingly frail, even die-hard fans could sense that the end had come.
Or, at least almost the end, for after announcing retirement Miyazaki went on to declare that he was going back to manga in the wake of The Wind Rises. With a seeming desire to ‘keep his hand in’ he turned to an interesting project titled 「鉄砲侍」(Matchlock/Musket Samurai).
This is not the first time that the elder statesman of anime has picked up a pen in this fashion, for he has taken to manga (often published through the pages of Model Graffix, as his earliest works were) as a way of ‘winding down’ from the intense workload of film production.
Based on the wars between the historical Uesugi and Hojo factions in the middle of the 16th Century, Matchlock Samurai is said to follow the story of an enterprising man, known as Hiruko Hachirota, who became part of a musket company.
Sadly, there is little to tell beyond that. Though being announced in 2013, and clearly being underway at that time, the project went into hiatus in early 2014 and Miyazaki’s office has revealed more, save for officially approving the figure, by Model Kasten under review.
If and when it will eventually be published, no-one knows… However, when/if it does, its main character has already won something of a fan following, for little more than being who he is – a common musketeer in a supposed age of Bushido…
Much as with the European case, the nature of the samurai (more commonly called bushi 「武士」 in Japan itself) has long been tied to myth and legend.
Traditionally, little more than body-servants to the nobility, by the Heian period they represented the main military power around the Imperial Court, with major factions assembling their own private armies to protect their interests at the palace. Though initially servants, their importance to the powers-that-were meant that some of these bushi were able to gather a great deal of power to them, and rise almost to the ranks of nobility themselves.
And this is where the myth making begins.
Tied to their parent factions by marriage, a number of bushi clans, led by the powerful Fujiwara and Minamoto families, began to see themselves as the true powers in the land, anointed by the kami in their own right and justified in seizing the throne from the increasingly decadent Imperial factions.
Thus, when the Fujiwara – who had been marrying their daughters into the Court for decades – seized control of Emperor Antoku’s Court with military force, the Minamoto and their allies struck back, igniting the Genpei Wars (1180-1185) which would ruin Kyoto and usher an age of military rule which colors Japanese society to this day.
When the smoke had cleared over the sea battle of Dan-no-Ura, Antoku was drowned, the treasures of the throne lost and the land had a new power, the Bakufu (military government) which enshrined the bushi as the new nobility. Much as had been the case in European dark ages, when feuding warriors had raised themselves to higher standing simply through force of arms and the control of land, so too did Japan’s warrior class raise itself.
Through self-aggrandizement, the creation of rituals associated with the sacred nature of warfare and the support of a government which actively sort to glorify the nature of the noble warrior, between the end of the Heian Period and the beginning of the Civil Wars (1185-1467) the bushi became the figures much of the world knows them as today: the lords of Bushido, the perfect warriors and the bearers of a sacred moral duty, which meant death before dishonor.
Would that were even remotely the case…
The Low Overthrows the High
Gekokujou 「下克上」 is the principle of the low overbearing the high, and though drawn from a Chinese political principle is today primarily associated with the social unrest which came with the Civil War years in Japan.
Over several centuries, the powerful bushi clans of the nation spent the lives of their warriors in order to either secure their right to rule and, just as often to fend of the depredations of other lords looking to extend their own rights.
These so-called nobles, who had come to pride themselves so much on the dignity of their rank had little regard for that dignity when the source of all noble power had failed, as had the Minamoto family, leaving the government in disarray. As the wars proceeded and the death tolls mounted, it dawned on even the most hard-line warrior lords that they did not have the numbers required among their households, and the importance of the ‘gundan‘ 「軍団」 or corps of common soldiers. Attempts had been made at the time of Emperor Tenmu (673-86) to make the gundan a national army, but the costs had been too high for the state to bear, and the state had to rely on the old feudal system of allowing key nobles to raise troops as required, in return for land and the right to seize booty in conflict.
The common soldier was of little importance in an age of small armies and single combat and, just as in Europe the status of such soldiers was appreciably low in the first instance.
However, after only a few years of mass civil war, warlords were turning towards the huge numbers of displaced and wandering commoners and changing the face of war, by eschewing the ‘noble codes’ of the past, and fielding bigger and bigger armies, with the idea of crushing opposition by weight of numbers.
Thus was the Ashigaru (and even the foot samurai) brought to great focus.
Soiling the Colors of Bushido
It was not just new men and new tactics which were changing the face of Japanese warfare in the Civil Wars however…
Muskets came to Japan in 1543.
When a Portuguese trade vessel went aground on Tanegashima that year, its crew was hosted by the lords of the island, and in return for help in fixing the ship were gifted, among other things, a pair of matchlock muskets, which were the staple of European armed forces of the time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matchlock). Though the lord had only a pair, he was able to have them roughly copied by a local swordsmith and, though not perfect the effectiveness of the Tanegashima musket company prompted other lords to acquire/make their own guns.
The musket was inaccurate, heavy, required complex consumables to function properly, and could potentially be dangerous for its wielder. It was a dirty, crude weapon, but one which suited the nature of war in its age. As the flower of nobility was wiping itself out faster than could be replaced, it was the perfect weapon for the common men who came in to take their place.
Unlike the bow or the spear – which had been the traditional weapons of the peasantry (even of the samurai) – the musket required no special skill to master, nor any remarkable strength to wield.
Useless on its own, it was deadly when massed and a volley of musket fire could shred the charge of even well-armoured samurai horsemen.
As in Europe, so in Japan. The modern age had come to Japan.
Iwakuni Matchlock Corps
The figure here, from Modelkasten represents Hachirouta as he is seen in the best known promo image from the (hopefully still) upcoming comic. It is unclear from the conflicting blurb if the character represents an ashigaru who has risen to command rank, or is a samurai who has ‘fallen on hard times’ and been reduced to the musket companies.
Either way, the significance of the character is profound, and just what we might expect from Miyazaki, with his love for the underdog and the common person.
The model is, in 1/35 scale, a decent multi-part molding but suffering from rather muted detailing overall. I’ll admit I do not like this, as I am used to working with Tamiya 1/35 figures, and have become used to crisper detail.
This is to be expected of course, as Modelkasten’s resources are not as developed as a larger company’s and to have put such as special interest kit through a tighter mastering would have raised the price considerably.
That being said, this is still a good job on Modelkasten’s part, and I wonder if the ‘muted’ nature of the figure is also due to the nature of Miyazaki’s rather ‘gumby’ style.
All in all, it’s an excellent little figure, in the vein of the classic manga-which-might-or-might-not-ever-be.
Come on, Mr. M. get the lead out, eh?! 😉
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