Movie: Katen no Shiro (火天の城)

Released in Japan on Sept. 12, 2009, this movie is about Okabe Mataemon, a Nagoya (Atsuta)-based master carpenter who in 1576 was ordered by Japan’s leading warlord Oda Nobunaga to build Azuchi Castle on Mt. Azuchi fronting Lake Biwa. The main castle tower or donjon was to have an unprecedented five stories. It was to be the grandest and most lavish castle Japan had ever seen. Mataemon and his crew had only three years to complete the epic construction which they did. The movie shows the major and minor tribulations Mataemon and his crew went through during the construction. The movie is also unusual because it has no battle scenes despite being a samurai movie.

Being a castle fan, I really looked forward to this movie. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of the acting, completeness of the story, believability, and overall visual and emotional impact. The movie does have a few outstanding scenes with what looks like thousands of people working, but they were too few and too short. Computer graphics depicting the construction of the mountaintop castle were impressive enough. But I thought there were too many story lines and characters which could not be fully developed or explained within the movie’s 139 min.

For history buffs, it might be frustrating because the movie is obviously not historically accurate since it is a work of fiction. For castle fans, the movie does not show all the major aspects of building a castle. I wish they showed more scenes of the actual construction (which sped by too quickly). Work on the stone walls, interior, moats, etc., are missing. Seeing the stones being cut and fitted onto the walls, the beams being fitted to the main pillar, the construction of the roof, moat digging, interior painting, gold leafing, etc., are all missing. So the educational value of this movie does not attain its potential.

The movie does have interesting story lines. Construction of a major castle with mostly manual labor, Mataemon the carpenter prodigy, Nobunaga’s affection for imported European goods, merchants getting rich from European trade, ninja-like assassins, and a few love stories. But the movie was too short to adequately develop them all. It tries to cover everything, but in doing so, it never really developed any story to its fullest and best potential. It might have been better to make it a TV series rather than a movie.

I was also disappointed that Governor Kada Yukiko did not make a cameo appearance. I had heard that leading actor Nishida Toshiyuki asked her to appear in the movie. I thought she agreed. Well, you won’t see her in the movie. The movie also does not mention the word “Omi” or “Shiga.” And it does not introduce any places, people, or products from Shiga. Also, none of the main actors/actresses are from Shiga.

But I still recommend seeing this movie. It is worth seeing the few outstanding scenes that it has. The movie was filmed in Kyoto; Adogawa in Takashima where they filmed the giant boulder scene with 200 extras, Awajishima island in Hyogo for scenes atop Mt. Azuchi overlooking Lake Biwa, Kiso-Fukushima in Nagano for forest scenes, and Taiwan for the big tree scene.

It is pretty much an all-star cast headed by Nishida Toshiyuki as Mataemon, Otake Shinobu as his wife, and Ogata Naoto (who gave a fine acting performance) as a woodsman.

I have posted a detailed review and detailed summary of the movie plot for those of you who cannot understand Japanese, so you’ll know what’s going on:

http://photoguide.jp/txt/Movie_review:_Katen_no_Shiro_(火天の城)

In Shiga, the movie is playing at the following theaters (phone number in parentheses):

Otsu: United Cinemas Otsu (077-527-6188) and Otsu Alex Cinemas (077-527-9616)
Hikone: Hikone Viva City Cinemas (0749-26-1002)
Omi-Hachiman: Warner MyCal Omi-Hachiman (0748-37-3433)
Kusatsu: Warner MyCal Kusatsu (077-561-4545)
Koka: Minakuchi Alex Cinemas (0748-63-8801)

Official Web site (in Japanese only): http://katen.jp/

Omi-Hachiman to remain “Omi-Hachiman” after merging with Azuchi

As reported earlier, Omi-Hachiman and neighboring Azuchi are planning to merge in March 2010. On May 22, 2009, the deliberation committee for the merger between the two municipalities held a vote to decide the new name of the city after merging. Two proposed names were up for voting: Omi-Hachiman (近江八幡) and Omi-Hachiman-Azuchi (近江八幡安土).

It was a close vote, but Omi-Hachiman won the most votes. I’m surprised that “Azuchi” was not one of the options. The Azuchi name is far more famous than Omi-Hachiman. Japan’s Azuchi-Momoyama Period is named after Azuchi Castle built by Oda Nobunaga.

It is likely that “Azuchi-cho” will be retained as a place name in addresses after the merger. The current Omi-Hachiman City Hall will serve as the new city’s city hall, while the Azuchi Town Hall will be a branch office.

However, there might be a stumbling block to this merger by a citizen’s group in Azuchi petitioning for the recall of its mayor who is railroading this merger through.

Interesting that neighboring Ryuo-cho is out of the merger picture. Ryuo has the Daihatsu auto factories, but residents still depend on Omi-Hachiman for daily living.

Sister-city exchange students cancel/postpone trips

Due to the spread of swine flu, the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education has decided to cancel all high school student exchange trips to sister cities in Michigan, USA. Some 20 students from Michigan were scheduled to visit Shiga next month for home-stay visits, and 20 students from Shiga were to visit Michigan in Sept. 2009.

Earlier, eight junior high school students from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA postponed their trip to Omi-Hachiman scheduled for May 8-16, 2009. Due to fears of swine flu, the Grand Rapids people decided to postpone the homestay trip. As part of their sister-city relationship, Grand Rapids and Omi-Hachiman have been sending students to each other for homestay visits.

It is very unfortunate these trips had to be canceled. I’m sure the students are all very disappointed. Taking overseas trips during the formative years of high school brings much mutual unerstanding and experiences, besides lasting memories. Hope they will somehow eventually make the trip somehow, someday soon.

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