Feb 9

Tom Baker’s Interview with a Samurai Rabbit

Tom Baker (Chiba-ken, 1989-91) is now as a staff writer for The Daily Yomiuri.  We will be regularly featuring his work.  Here is his latest, an interview with the Hawaiian Stan Sakai, creator of the comic Usagi Yojimbo.

Usagi Yojimbo comic book

The Art of Usagi Yojimbo

“There was the old movie theater down the street from where I lived that showed the old samurai movies, those chambara movies, every Saturday. I’d go to see the old Toshiro Mifune movies. Get-in-for-a-quarter, stay-all-day type of thing,” Stan Sakai, 56, said, recalling his childhood in Hawaii.

Sakai grew up to become a comic-book artist, and in 1984, he launched a samurai epic of his own. Its main character is a wandering ronin with dazzling sword skills, a fierce sense of honor and a network of friends and enemies across Japan. Miyamoto Usagi is one formidable rabbit.

A fluffy bunny wielding a katana sword may sound silly, but Sakai makes it work. His ongoing Usagi Yojimbo series is filled with drama, pathos and well-developed characters. There are also abundant allusions to Japanese culture. The most obvious of these is that Usagi’s long ears are tied together to form a chonmage samurai hairstyle, but others are more subtle, such as a gourd flask that resembles mangaka Osamu Tezuka’s signature Hyotan-Tsugi character.

In Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (Dark Horse, 63 pp, 14.95 dollars), a full-color hardback graphic novel released in November to mark the character’s 25th anniversary last year, Usagi confronts a grotesque army of Japanese supernatural beings.

“I love the old ghost stories about Japan. That was fun to research,” Sakai told The Daily Yomiuri by phone from California, where he lives. “For a country that’s so small, there’s so much [in the way of] ghosts and goblins and monsters around. The folklore of Japan is so rich. And not only the really horrific stuff, but also the really goofy stuff. It’s fun to draw.”

To read the full story, click here.

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