Hi blog, long time no see.
Just been reading around a bit and noticed this article.
Now, the English phrase “samurai sword” is problematic. The word “samurai” is almost exclusively used in English to refer to a member of the medieval/early-modern Japanese social class known as buke (武家), but probably the vast majority of the physical blades that are referred to as “samurai swords” have no direct connection to the pre-modern buke, as they were produced after the old Japanese caste system was abolished and could be freely owned (purchased) by people regardless of their former social class.
I think the phrase more often than not just means “Japanese or Japanese-looking gently-curved single-edged sword”.
The question then arises: What kind of sword did Kurosawa give Sturges, if this anecdote is accurate?
Now, Kurosawa Akira was (as far as I have heard) himself of historically buke stock. This means that it is at least possible he owned a sword that had actually been carried by a “samurai” and so could be accurately called a “samurai sword”. But if this was the case, such a sword would have been a priceless family heirloom. Would he give such an item away to a fellow filmmaker, just because he enjoyed the latter’s movie? Or even because he appreciated what a tribute it had been to his own movie? Let alone a foreign filmmaker whose understanding of such a sword’s significance would probably not be much greater than that of one who would mistakenly call any mass-produced Japanese military sword a “samurai sword”?
So I would say that, if this anecdote is basically accurate, the “samurai sword” in question was not a priceless and irreplaceable heirloom that had been passed down through Kurosawa’s samurai lineage for centuries, but rather a trinket that Kurosawa bought for the occasion; pricey, maybe, but not something one should normally call a “samurai sword”, especially given that Kurosawa himself was a descendant of real Samurai.
But this is not the real issue here. I’m still not convinced that the anecdote is even accurate. I searched around a bit, and couldn’t find any source for the story prior to 2002. Now, a professional film critic might possibly have heard the story from one of the people involved (given that Ryan’s career appears to have begun in the 1980s, I doubt he himself was present at the event).
But if this story originated with something Sturges (who died in 1992) had written or said, wouldn’t it have appeared in some source prior to the article I linked to at the top of this post? And if the story had originally come from something Kurosawa had written or said in an interview, would there not be more sources available in Japanese than English?
I’m seriously asking — the problem of translating “samurai sword” into Japanese makes it difficult to locate sources for it in that language. Anyone else have any ideas?