A self described ‘film enthusiast, […] passionate student of Eastern philosophy, and an admitted Nipponophile’ Patrick Galloway is the author of the book Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook out now from Stone Bridge Press.
Yellow Menace: Congratulations on your book; it’s a real hoot.
Patrick Galloway: Thanks! I was going for “hoot.” Also “romp,” “blast,” and “brilliant, informative read” (laughs)
YM: Well, you certainly succeeded!
PG: Thanks. Thanks a lot.
YM: Can you tell us a little about yourself? I read a little on your background from your site. What spurred your interest in Japanese film?
PG: The short answer is Akira Kurosawa, but really it goes back to my teen years and the discovery of Eastern Philosophy, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. These teachings had a profound effect on me, and made me want to learn more about the cultures where they thrived. Buddhism led me to Zen and Zen led me Japan. However it wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally discovered Japanese film.
YM: Wow…consider me impressed! I’ve been watching Japanese movies all my life, (thanks to my Asian Dad) and I found plenty to learn from your book.
PG: I wish I had an Asian dad! Sure would have helped writing this book. But I’m an obsessive type. Once I get into something, I can get pretty monomaniacal which tends to shorten the catch-up period.
YM: Your book conveys your passion for Samurai cinema very well; you really know your stuff, but you don’t get bogged down in scholarly dissertations. Was there a part of you that wanted to aim for a more critical approach (a la Donald Richie’s classic The Films of Akira Kurosawa)?
PG: I have a BA in English Literature and I knew I could certainly mount some jargon-laden, textbook-type tome, but where’s the fun in that? Academic writing is for academics, it has its own publishers and distributors and exists in its own univ erse. My goal was to create a book people could enjoy, first and foremost. Of course I wanted to impart as much knowledge as I could, so I developed this hybrid narrative voice, somewhere between film history teacher and rabid fanboy. Really it’s just my voice. (laughs)
YM: I suspect for you this question will be akin to asking a parent which child is their favorite, but: what’s your favorite samurai film?
PG: Your analogy is apt. A parent loves each of his or her children, but in different ways, which is how I feel about the samurai films I’ve seen. I couldn’t begin to choose one. But off the top of my head I’d say I love Kagemusha for the grandeur, Harakiri for the Bushido, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx for the blood and Seven Samurai for changing my life.
YM: What kind of research was necessary to put this book together? You seem like the kind of guy that has had the material waiting to be put to paper for years. Was it difficult?
PG: Well you nailed it there — this stuff was welling up in me over the course of several years of watching films, reading books and finding everything I could on the Internet. When the time came to sit down and write it, it came pouring out in a flood … I couldn’t type fast enough!
YM: One thing that really impressed me was your ability to digress into mini-lessons on Japanese history without breaking the flow. The litle ‘Takuan’ info-boxes were particularly great. Was this a goal you laid out when you started the book, or did this evolve as a process of writing it?
PG: No, it was my goal from the beginning to address aspects of Japanese history and culture that might be somewhat bewildering to newcomers, little things that had also thrown me in the beginning, like, “Why does that woman have black teeth?” or “Why do the men shave their heads and lay a pony tail on top?” I wanted to cover that stuff up front, thus eliminating cultural barriers that might baffle some Western viewers. My stealth objective is to get lots and lots of Americans into samurai films. The bigger the fan base, the bigger the market, and that means more samurai films for ME! (laughs)
YM: I was pleasantly surprised to see the Zatoichi films featured so prominently in your book. Not that I’m complaining, but why did you choose to devote so much space to the Blind Swordsman?
PG: Zatoichi is a great entry point for samurai cinema. You can sit your mom down in front of one and chances are she’ll have a blast. Zatoichi DVDs are everywhere, online and in the big outlets — the phenomenon that started in Japan in 1962 continues to this day! This is largely due to the Independent Film Channel running Zatoichi fims every Saturday morning for years now — quite a number of people have gotten turned on by Ichi, so I wanted to address that audience. Plus, they’re just really great flicks!
YM: What other aspects of Japanese culture appeal to you? Are you an otaku-type that delves into manga, anime, and model kits, or do you draw the line at chambara?
PG: I’d say I’m more of a film obsessive than an otaku. I do love manga, samurai and various cult titles, but that’s about as far as I venture into the otaku realm. All that “moe” stuff — I don’t get it. Really, I’m more interested in traditional aspects of Japanese culture: Architecture, language, food, literature, history. If I went to Tokyo tomorrow, I’d be heading for Edo Museum before I’d look for little plastic figurines.
YM: You’ve done some travelling in Japan – ever get a chance to hang out with one of your cinematic heroes?
PG: (Laughs) No, I’m afraid most of them are dead, or too old to want to meet somebody like me! Actually, when I went in 2003, I hadn’t written the book yet. Now I’d like to go to Tokyo and meet my all-time favorite actor, the great Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai-san was gracious enough to read my book and contribute a wonderful blurb — it’s on the back cover. I couldn’t believe it when I heard. Mifune and Nakadai are THE two towering figures in 20th Century Japanese film. To get his endorsement … I was stunned, blissfully stunned.
YM: Wow, how unobservant am I? I was so eager to dive into the book that I totally missed that. Impressive indeed!
PG: Yeah, my publisher contacted his people. I had no idea what to expect, certainly not the words of praise he gave me. I feel unworthy. But then I tell myself, “Who am I to argue with the great Tatsuya Nakadai?”
YM: This is a little off-topic, but I’m curious: what kind of non-Japanese films turn your crank?
PG: Oh god … (ponders). I’m pretty omnivorous. I like Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Spaghetti Westerns; I dig Film Noir a lot, and American films from the ’30s and ’40s — no musicals though. For directors I’d say Welles, Antonioni, Hitchcock, Clouzot, Argento, Leone. Some of my favorite films off the top of my head: Network, Sleuth, Zardoz, The Thin Man, The Lion in Winter, The Lady from Shanghai, Amadeus, The Matrix.
YM: While I’m on it then: what do you make of the influence Asian films are currently having on the West? I know it’s not a new phenomenon, but it seems to have really come to a head. Kill Bill and The Matrix have really turned Westerners onto Asian film in droves.
PG: I hope so; I hope Westerners are getting the influence and are indeed turning on to Asian film. Unfortunately, there’s always this issue of Hollywood trying to co-opt what Asian filmmakers are doing and knock off their own version. How many people who saw the Ring re-make a) knew that it was a re-make and b) sought out the Hideo Nakata original? The same goes for Ju-on, Dark Water, as well as the whole long list of upcoming Asian film re-makes. They’re going to re-make Oldboy for god sake! Can you imagine Tom Cruise or George Clooney standing in for Choi Min Sik? That’s just wrong, and I worry that the Hollywood influence will obscure the origins of these great films, relegating them to some b-list standard in the minds of the public. I want people to know that far from being some cute little foreign films that needed a Hollywood makeover, the Asian originals are, in fact, ten times better than the re-makes! (Phew, I think I’m hyperventilating … )
YM: I just have to ask since you brought it up in the preface of your book: has has it helped make your wife more appreciative of your obsession? 🙂
PG: Actually she shares it now. She helped a lot with the book, editing and playing devil’s advocate. By the end of the process she was hooked too! Now for the rest of the country …
YM: Okay, now that you’ve got this sucker under your belt…what’s next?
PG: I’m currently working on another Asian film book. Very hush-hush at this stage, but I’m confident it will blow more holes in that big cultural wall separating East and West. Should be out next Fall. After that, it’s Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves 2. There are a lot more great samurai films to cover. It could become a life’s work!
YM: Wow, a sequel? You seem to have covered a heck of a lot of ground in Volume One. I don’t want to press you for guarded secrets, but what do you plan to explore?
PG: The truth is, there are enough great samurai films to fill half a dozen more volumes. The first book is essentially a primer, covering the acknowledged classics, the heavy hitters, and providing a doorway into the genre. But I only covered 51 films in Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves and there are tons more great movies where they came from. For example, I’ve already gotten flack for not including Ran, Kurosawa’s King Lear-based samurai epic — that one’s definitely going in to volume 2. Other directors with films yet to explore include Hideo Gosha, Masahiro Shinoda, Kihachi Okamoto, Kazuo Ikehiro, Daisuke Ito, Senkichi Taniguchi, and on and on. There are a few more Zatoichis I’d like to cover, as well as films featuring Raizo Ichikawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Kinnosuke Nakamura — each of these guys made upwards of 100 films so you can imagine the wealth of samurai film fare just waiting for new audiences.
YM: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Patrick!
PG: Thanks Alex, it’s been a pleasure.
I’d like to thank Stone Bridge Press’ Jaime Starling for arranging this interview, and Mr. Galloway for being so accomodating. You can visit Mr. Galloway online at http://cyberpat.com/samurai/index.html