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Title: Jidaigeki  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tsumasaburō Bandō, Cinema of Japan, List of Japanese films of 1957, Niji Iro Tōgarashi, Tendency film
Collection: Film Genres, Japanese Entertainment Terms, Japanese Words and Phrases, Jidaigeki
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Actors playing samurai and ronin at Kyoto's Eigamura film studio

Jidaigeki (時代劇) is a genre of film, television, and theatre in Japan. Literally "period dramas", they are most often set during the Edo period of Japanese history, from 1603 to 1868. Some, however, are set much earlier—Portrait of Hell, for example, is set during the late Heian period—and the early Meiji era is also a popular setting. Jidaigeki show the lives of the samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants of their time. Jidaigeki films are sometimes referred to as chambara movies, a word meaning "sword fight", though chambara is more accurately a subgenre of jidaigeki. Jidaigeki rely on an established set of dramatic conventions including the use of makeup, language, catchphrases, and plotlines.


  • Types of jidaigeki 1
    • Sengoku-jidai 1.1
  • Roles in jidaigeki 2
    • Warriors 2.1
    • Craftsmen 2.2
    • Merchants 2.3
    • Governments 2.4
    • Other 2.5
  • Conventions 3
    • Proverbs and catchphrases 3.1
  • Famous jidaigeki 4
    • Films 4.1
    • Video games 4.2
    • Anime and manga 4.3
    • Live action television 4.4
  • Famous directors 5
  • Influence 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Types of jidaigeki

Actor Kotaro Satomi on the set of Mito Kōmon

Many jidaigeki take place in Edo, the military capital. Others show the adventures of people wandering from place to place. The long-running television series Zenigata Heiji and Abarenbō Shōgun typify the Edo jidaigeki. Mito Kōmon, the fictitious story of the travels of the historical daimyo Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and the Zatoichi movies and television series, exemplify the traveling style.

Another way to categorize jidaigeki is according to the social status of the principal characters. The title character of Abarenbō Shogun is Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun. The head of the samurai class, Yoshimune assumes the disguise of a low-ranking hatamoto, a samurai in the service of the shogun. Similarly, Mito Kōmon is the retired vice-shogun, masquerading as a merchant. In contrast, the coin-throwing Heiji of Zenigata Heiji is a commoner, working for the police, while Ichi (the title character of Zatoichi), a blind masseur, is an outcast, as were many disabled people in that era. In fact, masseurs, who typically were at the bottom of the professional food chain, was one of the few vocational positions available to the blind in that era. Gokenin Zankurō is a samurai but, due to his low rank and income, he has to work extra jobs that higher-ranking samurai were unaccustomed to doing.

Whether the lead role is samurai or commoner, jidaigeki usually reach a climax in an immense sword fight just before the end. The title character of a series always wins, whether using a sword or a jutte (the device police used to trap, and sometimes to bend or break, an opponent's sword).


Sengoku-jidai (Warring States era setting) is a Japanese genre that has been used as the setting for novels, films, video games, anime and manga. It bears some parallels with the Western; Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, for example, was remade in a Western setting as The Magnificent Seven. The anime and manga series InuYasha is set in this period despite some moments that were set in the modern era.

Roles in jidaigeki

Among the characters in jidaigeki are a parade of people with occupations unfamiliar to modern Japanese, and especially to foreigners. Here are a few.


The warrior class included samurai, hereditary members in the military service of a daimyo or the shogun (themselves samurai). Ronin, samurai without masters, were also warriors, and like samurai, wore two swords; they were, however, without inherited employment or status. Bugeisha were men, or in some stories women, who aimed to perfect their martial arts, often by traveling throughout the country. Ninja were the secret service, specializing in stealth, the use of disguises, explosives, and concealed weapons.


Craftsmen in jidaigeki included metalworkers (often abducted to mint counterfeit coins), bucket-makers, carpenters and plasterers, and makers of woodblock prints for art or newspapers.


In addition to the owners of businesses large and small, the jidaigeki often portray the employees. The bantō was a high-ranking employee of a merchant, the tedai, a lower helper. Many merchants employed children, or kozō. Itinerant merchants included the organized medicine-sellers, vegetable-growers from outside the city, and peddlers at fairs outside temples and shrines. In contrast, the great brokers in rice, lumber and other commodities operated sprawling shops in the city.


In the highest ranks of the shogunate were the rojū. Below them were the wakadoshiyori, then the various bugyō or administrators, including the jisha bugyō (who administered temples and shrines), the kanjō bugyō (in charge of finances) and the two Edo machi bugyō. These last alternated by month as chief administrator of the city. Their role encompassed mayor, chief of police, and judge, and jury in criminal and civil matters.

Ban'ya, Toei Uzumasa Studios

The machi bugyō oversaw the police and fire departments. The police, or machikata, included the high-ranking yoriki and the dōshin below them; both were samurai. In jidaigeki, they often have full-time patrolmen, okappiki and shitappiki, who were commoners. (Historically, these people were irregulars, called to service only when necessary.) Zenigata Heiji is an okappiki. The police lived in barracks at Hatchōbori in Edo. They manned ban'ya, the watch-houses, throughout the metropolis. The jitte was the symbol of the police, from yoriki to shitappiki.

A separate police force handled matters involving samurai. The ōmetsuke were high-ranking officials in the shogunate; the metsuke and kachi-metsuke, lower-ranking police who could detain samurai. Yet another police force investigated arson-robberies, while Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples fell under the control of another authority. The feudal nature of Japan made these matters delicate, and jurisdictional disputes are common in jidaigeki.

Edo had three fire departments. The daimyo-bikeshi were in the service of designated daimyo; the jōbikeshi reported to the shogunate; while the machi-bikeshi, beginning under Yoshimune, were commoners under the administration of the machibugyō. Thus, even the fire companies have turf wars in the jidaigeki.

Licensed quarter on a set at Toei Uzumasa Studios, Kyoto

Each daimyo maintained a residence in Edo, where he lived during sankin kotai. His wife and children remained there even while he was away from Edo, and the ladies-in-waiting often feature prominently in jidaigeki. A high-ranking samurai, the Edo-garō, oversaw the affairs in the daimyo's absence. In addition to a staff of samurai, the household included ashigaru (lightly armed warrior-servants) and chūgen and yakko (servants often portrayed as flamboyant and crooked). Many daimyo employed doctors, goten'i; their counterpart in the shogun's household was the okuishi. Count on them to provide the poisons that kill and the potions that heal.


The cast of a wandering jidaigeki encountered a similar setting in each han. There, the karō were the kuni-garō and the jōdai-garō. Tensions between them have provided plots for many stories.


There are several dramatic conventions of jidaigeki:

  • The heroes often wear eye makeup, and the villains often have disarranged hair.
  • A contrived form of old-fashioned Japanese speech, using modern pronunciation and grammar with a high degree of formality and frequent archaisms.
  • In long-running TV series, like Mito Kōmon and Zenigata Heiji, the lead and supporting actors sometimes change. This is done without any rationale for the change of appearance. The new actor simply appears in the place of the old one and the stories continue. This is similar to the James Bond film series, in contrast with e.g. the British television program Doctor Who.
  • In a swordfight, when a large number of villains attacks the main character, they never attack at once. The main character first launches into a lengthy preamble detailing the crimes the villains have committed, at the end of which the villains then initiate hostilities. The villains charge singly or in pairs; the rest wait their turn to be dispatched and surround the main character until it is their turn to be easily defeated. Swordfights are the grand finale of the show and are conducted to specially crafted theme music for their duration.
  • On television, even fatal sword cuts draw little blood, and often do not even cut through clothing. Villains are chopped down with deadly, yet completely invisible, sword blows. Despite this, blood or wounding may be shown for arrow wounds or knife cuts.
  • In chambara films, the violence is generally considerably stylized, sometimes to such a degree that sword cuts cause geysers of blood from wounds. Dismemberment and decapitation are common.

Proverbs and catchphrases

Authors of jidaigeki work pithy sayings into the dialog. Here are a few:

  • Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi: Like bugs that fly into the fire in the summer (they will come to their destruction)
  • Shishi shinchū no mushi: A wolf in sheep's clothing (literally, a parasite in the lion's body)
  • Kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana: Fires and brawls are the flower of Edo
  • Ōedo happyaku yachō: "The eight hundred neighborhoods of Edo"
  • Tabi wa michizure: "Travel is who you take with you"

In addition, the authors of series invent their own catchphrases called kimarizerifu that the protagonist says at the same point in nearly every episode. In Mito Kōmon, in which the eponymous character disguises himself as a commoner, in the final swordfight, a sidekick invariably holds up an accessory bearing the shogunal crest and shouts, Hikae! Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanu ka?: "Back! Can you not see this emblem?", revealing the identity of the hitherto unsuspected old man with a goatee beard. The villains then instantly surrender and beg forgiveness. Likewise, Kore nite ikken rakuchaku: "Case closed."

The kimarizerifu betrays the close connection between the jidaigeki and the comic-book superhero.

Famous jidaigeki


Main article List of jidaigeki films

Video games

Anime and manga

Live action television

Title Network Notable cast Duration Notes
Akakage, The Masked Ninja Fuji TV Yûzaburô Sakaguchi, Yoshinobu Kaneko, Fuyukichi Maki 1967–1968
Ōedo Sōsamō TV Tokyo Tetsurô Sagawa, Takeya Nakamura, Ryô Kurosawa 1970–1980
Hissatsu shikakenin TV Asahi Ken Ogata, Gorô Mutsumi, Sô Yamamura 1972–1973
Kaiketsu Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Akiko Kujō, Norihiko Umechi, Kiyoshi Kobayashi 1972–1973
Fuun Lion-Maru Fuji TV Tetsuya Ushio, Kazuo Kamoshida, Masaki Hayasaki 1973
Hissatsu shiokinin TV Asahi Tsutomu Yamazaki, Yumiko Nogawa, Makoto Fujita 1973
Tasukenin hashiru TV Asahi Takahiro Tamura, Ichirô Nakatani, Atsuko Sano 1973–1974
Hissatsu hitchû shigotoya kagyô TV Asahi Ken Ogata, Ryûzô Hayashi, Mitsuko Kusabue 1975
Hissatsu shiokiya kagyô TV Asahi Masaya Oki, Katsutoshi Atarashi, Atsushi Watanabe 1975–1976
Hissatsu shiwazanin TV Asahi Makoto Fujita, Atsuo Nakamura, Kin Sugai 1976
Tobe! Hissatsu ura goroshi TV Asahi Atsuo Nakamura, Akiko Wada, Shôhei Hino 1978
Hissatsu shigotonin TV Asahi Makoto Fujita, Gorô Ibuki, Kunihiko Mitamura 1979–1981
Shadow Warriors Fuji TV Sonny Chiba 1980–1985
Takeda Shingen TBS Kôji Yakusho, Sonny Chiba, Ken Watanabe 1990 Television miniseries
Byakkotai TV Asahi Yûko Asano, Aya Enjôji, Taisuke Fujigaya 2007
Fūrin Kazan NHK Yuki Shibamoto, Issei Takahashi, Fusako Urabe 2007
Jin TBS Takao Ohsawa, Miki Nakatani, Haruka Ayase 2009–2011
Taira no Kiyomori NHK Kenichi Matsuyama, Kiichi Nakai, Masaki Okada, Hiroshi Tamaki, Shota Matsuda 2012
Yae no Sakura NHK Hyunri, Russell Totten, Cynthia Cheston 2013

Famous directors

Names are in Western order, with the surname after the given name.


Akira Kurosawa, and many thematic elements found in Star Wars bear the influence of Chanbara filmmaking. In an interview, Lucas has specifically cited the fact that he became acquainted with the term jidaigeki while in Japan, and it is widely assumed that he took inspiration for the term Jedi from this.[1][2][3]


  1. ^ Duggan, Jedi M. "History of the Jedi & The Jedi Religion". Jedi Sanctuary. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  2. ^ "Trivia for Star Wars (1977)".  
  3. ^ "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed". 2007-05-28. about 90 minutes in.  

External links

  • A Man, a Blade, an Empty Road: Postwar Samurai Film to 1970 by Allen White on Greencine, this article discusses specific chambara films, their distinction from regular jidai-geki, and the evolution of the genre.
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