View Full Version : ``Samurai: Behind the Blade''

John Lindsey
12th February 2004, 19:06

SINGAPORE Feb 12 - At age 13, he flayed a man with a sword, or so the legend goes. Three years later he entered his first battle as a full-fledged samurai warrior and by 30 he was, in his own words, unbeatable.

Miyamoto Musashi epitomised the brutish elegance of 17th century Japan's samurai soldier: a wanderer, vicious fighter and occasional poet whose literary legacy is ``The Book of Five Rings'', a spiritual and technical guide to the martial arts.

The book, a treatise on the art of winning, helped catapult Japan's Zen-tinged traditions of fighting and warfare into the West, becoming a bible for many modern-day corporate warriors.

In a similar way, Singapore hopes a new film on Musashi's life - the costliest documentary ever made locally - will give a thrust to its long-coveted ambition to transform itself into a hive of Asian documentary and film production.

In a country better known for censoring media than promoting it, the task is mammoth. But with characteristic efficiency, Singapore is building a portfolio of productions that, like its economy, depend heavily on foreign help.

In December, Singapore earmarked S$100 million (US$59 million) to develop documentaries and films. The goal is to produce up to five low-budget films a year. A new city neighbourhood designed for media companies, dubbed ``Fusionpolis'', is now being built.

``Samurai: Behind the Blade'', a US$450,000 project commissioned by National Geographic and co-produced in Singapore and Canada, is the biggest and perhaps most complex collaborative effort to date - filmed in Japan by a Singaporean and Japanese crew, directed by a Canadian, and edited in Singapore and Toronto.

``There were a lot of trans-Atlantic phone calls to make this happen,'' said Michele Klyne, a director of Wayward Media, which co-produced the documentary with Bang Productions in Singapore and Alliance Atlantis Communications of Toronto.

``In terms of budget it was 50:50 between Canada and Singapore,'' said Klyne. ``There was a Japanese crew. A Singapore crew. A Canadian director. We had a mix of talent. It was also almost 50:50 in terms of personnel between Singapore and Canada.''

Piecing together Musashi's life has vexed scholars for centuries. His original five-scroll manuscript no longer exists, forcing biographers and translators to work from copies made by his disciples and passed down through generations of families.

The exact year and location of his birth are often debated. No one knows for sure if he had a bit of help in beating the 60 swordsmen he claims to have vanquished by age 29, as he writes in a brief introduction to his ``Book of Five Rings''.

But his mark endures in contemporary Japan, the documentary shows - his image thrives in video games, comic books and Japan's vast animated film industry. Some villages still evoke his warrior code in festivals or traditional swordmaking.

``I believe we still have samurai spirit somewhere deep inside of us,'' artist Taizo Sakamoto tells an interviewer.

Shown on National Geographic TV in the United States, Canada, Southeast Asia and Japan, and set for a wider airing, ``Behind the Blade'' offers a historical counterpoint to the fictional narrative of the Hollywood blockbuster ``The Last Samurai''.