I’ve never heard the band Japandroids, and, to be real frank with you, I don’t plan to hear them, unless I happen to walk by their set at the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival. But that indie music review site’s own write-up of the act clued me in to a fact I haven’t really stopped coming back to for a few weeks:
ONE OF THE DUDES IN A BAND CALLED JAPANDROIDS IS NAMED DAVID PROWSE.
Now, for me and about 75 billion other movie nerds, the name David Prowse doesn’t exactly put us in mind of some Canadian garage rock duo who haven’t released an album yet. We’re reminded instead of things like blowing up the planet Alderaan, choking people from across the room without touching them, and saying things like “YOU ARE PART OF THE REBEL ALLIANCE AND A TRAITOR. TAKE HER AWAY!”
Because to us, David Prowse has always been the 6 foot, 7 inch bodybuilding British actor who was inside the Darth Vader costume for the first three Star Wars movies!
Normally, that alone would be enough to make mention on this blog, but…well….The story just doesn’t end there, despite the fact that Prowse of Japandroids isn’t related to Prowse of Star Wars and, in interviews, he has sighed and said that “Every time I go into a video store I get that.”
But think about the name “Japandroids.” It’s an example of what’s called “portmanteau,” wherein two distinct words are mushed together to make a new one. The two words here are pretty easy to parse:
JAPAN + ANDROIDS = JAPANDROIDS
Yeah, it’d be great if Darth Vader was himself an android, but he’s not. He’s a human being who’s been augmented with mechanical/robotic parts, perhaps more machine than man, but expressly not an android….Those are all robot.
But in a sense, Vader is Japanese. Everybody in Star Wars is sort of Japanese, in fact. Because it’s been really well documented that George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, has admitted to borrowing heavily for his “space opera” from The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa, perhaps Japan’s single greatest moviemaker. Here’s Lucas himself:
Hidden Fortress was an influence on Star Wars right from the beginning….I was searching around for a story. I had some scenes—the cantina scene and the space battle scene—but I couldn’t think of a basic plot….And then I thought of Hidden Fortress….
It’s not even an “Oh, OK, I can sort of see that…” kind of linkage between the films, either. It’s pretty obvious. Darth Vader is Lucas’s extrapolation of the villainous warrior General Hyo Tadokoro. The Hidden Fortress, from plot to characters, is like watching an early version of Star Wars unfold in Kurosawa’s deft hands, in Japanese, and a long time ago, in a feudal land far, far away.
Even better, though: the two characters from The Hidden Fortress you can most easily see echoed in Star Wars are a pair of bickering peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, from whose perspective the story is told. They wander around, get split up, get tossed into a slave camp by the enemy, are miraculously reunited, and finally hitch up with a princess and a sword-fighting samurai. Starting to sound real familiar? It should. George Lucas turned Tahei and Matashichi into C-3PO and R2-D2. The Droids!
Early in Lucas’s development of Star Wars, he didn’t even turn them into robots. They were just human, “space opera” versions of Kurosawa’s original bickering Japanese peasants. Only later, in the process of outlining, scriptwriting, and mythologizing, did they become droids…or, as we may now forever think of them, “Japandroids.”
Oh, by the way, I lied. During the writing of this post, I stumbled across some Japandroids music, probably on that myspace page of theirs. Eh…not so great. What I heard sounded like Braid recorded onto cassette tape in a closet half-full of aluminum. Trust me, readers: “THESE AREN’T THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.”