Japanese swordwork in… Conan?

The other day I was browsing through various videos on YouTube, and I ran across some clips from Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first star role in a big action movie. There were quite a few clips, but the ones that I really liked were this classic line (evidently this is originally a quote from Ghengis Khan, which is certainly plausible) and the climactic battle near the end of the movie. Watching it brought back some nostalgia from 80’s action movies, so I got hold of a copy and watched it. Maybe I’m getting wierd, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood spewing out nothing but crap for the last decade has really lowered my standards, but I really enjoyed it. It’s probably one of the best action epics I’ve ever seen. James Earl Jones and Mako (Makoto Iwamatsu, r.i.p.) give excellent performances, even though their screen time is pretty short. And Arnold? He wasn’t bad at all. He plays a very convincing barbarian (don’t know if that’s a complement or not though).

Another thing that really surprised me is that the majority of the swordwork seemed, well, solid. It wasn’t the clang-swords-together-until-I-stab-you-because-that’s-what-the-script-says that is the de facto standard in movie fight scenes, and it wasn’t the gymnasticly-impressive-but-ridiculous type of thing that is the norm in kung fu movies and the new norm in post-Star Wars Ep. I and The Matrix Hollywood. Take this scene where Valeria kills a couple of Thulsa Doom’s guards. You just don’t see that kind of fight scene in other movies. In fact, a lot of the sword work seemed somehow familiar. It turns out there is a good reason for that.

So according to imdb, the ‘sword master’ for Conan the Barbarian is someone by the name of Kiyoshi Yamasaki. Certainly Japanese, and most likely a Japanese martial artist, which would explain the familiarity of the swordwork I saw. So a quick google search found this site, which explains that he is an iaido and ‘tate-do’ instructor in Anaheim, CA. There is an old post on e-budo that explains most of his background with links to other pages with info on him.

Bonus: He also did the fight choreography for the 2nd Conan movie Conan the Destroyer, the Conan spin-off Red Sonya (although I wonder if he willingly admits to this one, since this movie is universally lampooned), and Dune. I’ll have to check up on those too, although I might need an antacid to get through Red Sonya.

Also, it turns out tate (殺陣) is the Japanese word for stage combat, which makes sense. The Japan Tate-do Society even has a dojo in Shinjuku.

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2 Responses to Japanese swordwork in… Conan?

  1. Peter says:

    Have you, by chance, seen The Last Samurai? I can’t speak to the authenticity of the swordwork, but it was very impressive. It was less flashy than brutal and fast. I liked it.

  2. admin says:

    Hi, Peter. I agree, the fight scenes in The Last Samurai were pretty good. I’m not sure who is behind it though. The only person listed on IMDB for stunt/fight coordinator was some guy named Lauro Chartrand, but his listing for stunt coordination on other movies doesn’t have anything that stands out. It could have just been that the only non-Japanese in the whole movie swinging a sword was Tom Cruise, and he probably had some Japanese sword instruction for the movie.

    Of course, I had trouble with the fact that it starred Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise is completely incapable of acting any role but Tom Cruise. To paraphrase a review for Minority Report, “While The Last Samurai does have historical elements, it is not a historical epic per se. It’s a movie about Tom Cruise in Meiji-era Japan.”

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