In the movie The game of death (released in 1978), Bruce Lee climbs the floors of a pagoda to fight a series of increasingly difficult battles against boss. Among Hong Kong virtuoso filmmakers, jumps and double jumps follow one another over a collision of blades, similar to the swirling stunts of platform games. If martial arts movies seem so close to video games today, it ‘s because the latter, from its earliest years, drew some of its most enduring choruses from these Asian movies – such as Karateka who, in 1984, invented through rotoscopy a video game equivalent to the technical apotheosis of kung-fu film. The influence has become reciprocal, as has the recent one SifuA ruthless fighting game that pays homage to the famous “corridor doll” of the Korean thriller big boy (2003), conception itself as the horizontal scrolling of a video game.
A genre in addition to martial arts cinema, the chabara (or Japanese sword movie) is also an important reference in action video games, where samurai, ronins and other ninjas are recurring figures. catana duels Samurai Shodown (1993) in its sharp turns Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019), the titles – mainly Japanese – taking advantage of the knightly folklore of the archipelago are legion. But if most are based on heroic, delusional and grotesque gestures (like the series Ονιμούσα), few dared to be as literally with the samurai movie as Karateka I had never played the movie Kung Fu. Recently, however, several titles have claimed this glorious but hardly honorable legacy.
Back to the classics
Between them, Travel to Yomi, released on Thursday, May 5 (on PlayStation, Xbox and PC consoles), features a grainy black and white image and a sleek sense of framing. Presented as a letter of love in Akira Kurosawa’s films, this short title takes advantage of an aesthetic in paintings where enemies emerge as so many surprises from the plane plane. Its director, Leonard Menchiari, once again invites the spirit of the “cinematic” action-adventure games of the 1980s and 1990s, that of Καρετέκα and others Another world rotoscoped: had already paid tribute to the last me The Eternal Castle in 2019.
Returning to a more primitive form of video game, Menchiari cinephile allows him to work in proportions of scale, transitions, games with hidden memories and silhouettes, this time with the impressive imitation of patina. chabara of the decade 1950-1960. Added to this is a well-documented representation of the Edo period, as well as exciting borrowings from other genres such as jindai-gecki (period film) or the kaidan-gecki (fantastic movie). This search for authenticity, down to the exemplary soundtrack, will seduce connoisseurs. However, the cinematic argument fails to deceive beyond the first hour, certainly attractive, of a conflict-based fighting game with sometimes frustrating repetition.
This is because the use of the “Kurosawaian” model is more a matter of image texture than playful reinterpretation, just as it was in 2020 for Ghost of Tsushimaa spectacular open world game set in 13th century Japanand century and is based on exotic images. The blockbuster from the American studio Sucker Punch was decorated with a “Kurosawa” function, a filter that allowed the image to be changed to black and white with contrasting effects worthy of movies in TohoScope, decorating it with a harsher sound and stinging release elements such as in the masterpieces of the Japanese teacher. But basically Ghost of Tsushima remained a superclassic action game, a thousand miles from its director’s strict cut Seven Samurai. essentially directed in a series shot in pursuit, hand-held camera, of a jolly protagonist rather than a wandering ronin.
Beyond the edge of the sword
Like the game nioh (2017), originally envisioned as an adaptation of an unfinished screenplay by Kurosawa that had evolved during its evolution into a supernatural story that is ultimately very different, would the video game struggle to master the codes of Japanese sword cinema? A notable exception is the cinematic epic itself Yakuza produced two glittering episodes (unfortunately unpublished in France) set in feudal Japan, which owe so much to dramas era of Japanese television rather than the historical melodramas of Kenji Mizoguchi or that with The Legend of Musashi (1954) by Hiroshi Inagaki. However, the way the video game is chabara often remains confined to a stylized aesthetic that hardly exceeds the simple tribute.
Remember that Akira Kurosawa did not only make black and white films and he did not limit himself to sword films. His characters are people who dare to reject the duty contracts in which video games, however, want to develop their samurai figures. In Kurosawa, violence intervenes only as a last resort. At the end Sanjuro (1962), explains the character played by Toshiro Mifune “The best swords must remain in their scabbards”. Thus, the final duel lasts only the time of a flash and a blast of blood. In Travel to Yomithe mentor is also called Sanjuro, but drags the hero to hell, in a series of battles fought in the name of revenge and redemption.
Beyond the humanity that Kurosawa loves, the samurai film is a cinema of belated attack, of shortcomings, based on an action economy. It is this unique grammar that Sergio Leone re-mastered with spaghetti western, an enlarged and bitter version of the classic western, modeled after Bodyguard (1961) by Kurosawa. The video game would undoubtedly have a lot to gain from operating such a transfer, given the chabara not as a simple aesthetic filter but as an opportunity to rediscover the rhythm and setting of the action game. Since 1984, the slowness and attitudes of his duel Karateka sketched a cinematic reproduction feature that Travel to Yomialthough it goes hand in hand with this classic, it does not manage enough to update it.