“The Age of Samurai” is Netflix’s surprising (and violent) historical series
A fascinating period of history takes on another dimension in the six-part documentation on the platform.
Now available on Netflix.
Netflix continues to diversify. There are platform projects that we have known from the start and that will be a success. Others deviate from the standard, but reserve their status. “The Age of the Samurai” is one such case. It premiered on February 24th and has reserved a spot in the platform’s top 10 trends (and not just in Portugal).
1551. “Japan is in chaos.” This is how everything is presented to us in a time of civil war, anarchy and very violent fighting between rival warlords. In the small province of Owari, the Oda clan is losing its leader and whoever takes over is Nobunaga, the leader’s eldest son, unpredictable, rude, who will shape the history of Japan in the centuries to come.
This was a time when power struggles paved the way for fraternal rivalries. Family murders were common. “Parents killed children, children killed parents, brothers killed brothers,” said one of the historians.
Nobunaga is very much loved among his own, very much through his own fault. To the point of killing him. Nobunaga is warned about the plans of the younger brother, who is adored by everyone. He catches and executes him and beheads the younger brother’s head. It was the first of several brutal and strategic decisions that will shape the country’s future.
In 1453 a Portuguese ship from Macau was hit by a storm and sank on the small island of Tanegashima off the south coast of Japan. The wreck flowed into Japanese territory. Among the lost cargo were Arcabuz and firearms, which were part of the Portuguese expansion plans.
A century after the Portuguese shipwreck, Nobunaga realizes that he can make a difference. Buy firearms and more. He decides to train and arm peasants. And it also shows to have a clinical eye to surprise enemies. This is how a simple clan leader becomes one of the most feared warlords in Japan.
A history of violence.
A thousand years ago, the term samurai was associated with servant. These dreaded warriors have grown in status over the centuries. The series transports us to a time when these determine the fate of Japan. In between we are taught incredible and quite violent rituals.
This is the case of honor suicide, seppuku, in which a man pierces himself and escapes. There is also a macabre ritual in which the severed heads of the vanquished are shown, cleaned and made up in order to win warlords. It was a mixture of humiliation but also recognition of who they had defeated.
The six-part documentary series presents reconstructions of battles and betrayals with Japanese actors, interpreted in the national language, accompanied by the context of the historians, most of them in English.
Matthew Booi, creator of the project, recently stated in an interview with Screenrant that this is not a mere detail. “We were looking for great Japanese actors for important roles. We knew that if we heard English in the first scene someone spoke, we would ruin things. “The casting work was also devoted to adding credibility and narrative emotion. They spoke to experts from around the world not only to lay down details, but also to ensure that it wasn’t necessary to tie everything into the narrator. Historians give the context and in the meantime we are treated with scenes of intrigue and violence.
“The chronology is boring,” explains Matthew Booi. “What offers entertainment is to have concrete protagonists who are looking for goals.” Because of this, the series focuses on Nobunaga, but also on Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. There are three men from different backgrounds whose stories we will trace and who made a significant contribution to the change in the political and social life of Japan in the centuries that followed.
Between the codes of honor, the violence and the scenic side, there is something fascinating about this feudal Japan. Akira Kurosawa’s cinema had already shown this to the whole world. The emphasis here is on history, but careful management of the budget is used. Armor varies, so do weapons, all in reenactments of battles where special effects are taken into account.
Japan was a violent time, but the history of the samurai is still something that feeds legends and tales. Now we can take a closer look at what happened in a production that tries to combine historical portrait and narrative rhythm. You can see why this “Age of Samurai” came as a good surprise.