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Japan's Not So Secret Influence on Star Wars

Star Wars has found itself back in the limelight ever since Disney purchased the franchise from creator George Lucas. Fans have known that Lucas was inspired by various movies and shows while working on Star Wars - and works from Japan were a big influence.

Star Wars


Akira Kurosawa's Influence

Lucas has never been shy about his love for Akira Kurosawa's films. From Kurosawa's filming techniques to story structure, Lucas revealed the influence that the Japanese movie, The Hidden Fortress, had on Star Wars: A New Hope.


Some movie fans have gone out to call Star Wars: A New Hope a blatant rip-off of The Hidden Fortress. Kurosawa's fingerprints are all over Star Wars. 

This video sums up the major ways Star Wars copies The Hidden Fortress.

  • Both films open with bickering characters that are the "friend" archetypes and the story is told from their perspective, not the heroes
  • They hear stories of a princess hunted by an evil empire who has lost her people in war
  • They become helpers to a legendary master who is trying to get the Princess through enemy lines
  • The Master has to fight a close friend who he spares, then the friend comes back badly scarred and leading the enemies
  • Many of the filmmaking techniques (wipes, character imagery) are very similar

Watch the video to see the two movies shown side-by-side.


The Jedi and the Samurai

Star WarsSamurai

Even people who have never seen a Kurosawa film can draw connections between the Jedi and Japanese samurai. Even the name is derived from "Jidaigeki", which is Japanese for period drama.

The loose garb, use of swords (though samurai were also archers), and the romanticized view of peace are commonly shared traits between the jedi and samurai. The use of the Force, and how the Jedi speak of it seem to come from Bushido teachings that samurai would have undergone. Even the Sith can be compared to dangerous ronin - samurai without masters who fight for selfish reasons.

Darth Vader's helmet even resembles a kabuto, which were worn by Japanese warlords. The feudal Japan look of Star Wars has led to official merchandise depicting the Imperial forces as futuristic samurai.


Anime's Touch?

Gif is from a fan made Star Wars anime short.

Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977, and at the time anime wasn't really a thing outside of Japan.

Japan's love for space battles and mecha is well-known among anime fans. Space Battleship Yamato was one of the first series to popularize the space opera in Japan, and it premiered in 1974. If an anime did have a direct influence on Star Wars, it would have been Space Battleship Yamato.

Fans have noticed that R2-D2 shares a strong resemblance to Analyzer from Yamato. The rounded shape and cute sounds are distinctively Japanese, as American sci-fi movies at the time all went for a more human design.

The future space battles and ship designs do look like the would be at home in Gundam or Macross, but with no official word on the link, it is only speculation.


Star Wars

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Star Wars is being the first successful blend of Japanese and American storytelling. While the story may not be completely new, the blend was unique when A New Hope opened in 1977. The fact that the franchise is still a global phenomenon speaks to this achievement

Read More: Star Wars Gets an Anime Makeover with Noho Frog

Aaron Magulick has been a fan of anime ever since being exposed to it in the late '90s. A fan of nearly all genres, he is not afraid to explore the creepier side of the industry. Feel free to connect with him on GoBoiano Social.

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