Shintaro the Samurai and happy little vegemites

This Australian documentary, Shintaro: The Samurai Sensation that swept a nation, examines the cultural phomenon of a Japanese TV series that became a smash hit in Australia. The DVD’s dust cover says it all:

“In 1964, an extraordinary cross-cultural TV sensation swept through the suburban lounge rooms of Australia. Every afternoon after school The Samurai left an indelible impression on the children of the ‘swinging’ sixties.

Imported from Japan, dubbed into American English it was a smash hit, astonishing broadcasters, advertisers, the press and critics alike. Never before or since had such a cross-cultural show become such a cult hit…”

Australia of the late 50s and early 60s was a very homogenous place. The now notorious ‘White Australia’ policy firmly kept foreign influences at bay. The main cities were not the multicultural melting pots that they are now (although issues surrounding race and multiculturalism is still something that Australia struggles with even today). White culture held sway, and migrant and, tragically, Aboriginal cultures were marginalized to the point of being invisible. During World War 2 Australian troops had been engaged in fighting the Japanese, and many Australian prisoners of War had suffered horribly at the hands of their Japanese captors. 20 years is not a long time for a nation to deal with entrenched paranoia and, in the case of POW survivors and their families, very real trauma. In this documentary one man movingly recounts how, as a boy, he was a huge fan of Shintaro but that his father had been interned in the Changi prison camp. So it is amazing to consider that Australian children (and some of their parents) were captivated by not just a foreign show, but a Japanese one. And not just a Japanese show but one which celebrated a Japanese martial tradition.

But captivated they were. This documentary is structured around snippets of interviews with people explaining why and how they adored this show when they were children. Little kids of celtic-anglo extraction would put on black pyjamas and dressing gowns (makeshift kimonos) and kit themselves out with plastic swords, their mum’s broom handles and homemade shuriken (mostly made out of cardboard cut in the shape of a star and covered in tin foil). They would take to the streets and their backyards and stage mock battles between ninjas and samurai, declaiming their favourite lines of dialogue in fake American accents. This documentary is an interesting and fun reflection on what the show meant to many of those fans.

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