You Can Play the New Samurai Video Game Ghost of Tsushima in “Kurosawa Mode:” An Homage to the Japanese Master

Video games are start­ing to look and feel like movies: even those of us who haven’t gamed seri­ous­ly in decades have tak­en notice. Nor has the con­ver­gence between the art forms — if, unlike the late Roger Ebert, you con­sid­er video games an art form in the first place — been lost on game devel­op­ers them­selves. While the most ambi­tious cre­ators in the indus­try looked for inspi­ra­tion from cin­e­ma even when they were work­ing with rel­a­tive­ly prim­i­tive dig­i­tal tools, they can now pay prac­ti­cal­ly direct homage to their aes­thet­ic sources. Take Suck­er Punch Pro­duc­tions’ Ghost of Tsushi­ma, released this week for the Playsta­tion 4, which fea­tures a selec­table audio­vi­su­al mode “inspired by the movies of leg­endary film­mak­er Aki­ra Kuro­sawa.”

An ambi­tious pro­duc­tion set on the tit­u­lar Japan­ese island dur­ing a 13th-cen­tu­ry Mon­gol inva­sion, Ghost of Tsushi­ma casts the play­er in the role of a young samu­rai named Jin Sakai. “All the aes­thet­ic and the­mat­ic con­ven­tions of samu­rai films are present and cor­rect,” writes The Guardian’s Keza Mac­Don­ald, includ­ing “a sto­ry cen­tered on hon­or and self-mas­tery; dra­mat­ic weath­er that sweeps across Japan’s spell­bind­ing land­scapes; stand­offs against back­drops of falling leaves and desert­ed towns; screen wipe and axi­al cuts; quick, lethal katana com­bat that ends with ene­mies stag­ger­ing and spurt­ing blood before top­pling like felled trees.” Kuro­sawa Mode presents the game’s hyp­not­i­cal­ly lav­ish visu­als in a “grainy black-and-white,” and its dia­logue in Eng­lish-sub­ti­tled Japan­ese — just how many of us remem­ber pic­tures like Sev­en Samu­raiThrone of Blood, and Yojim­bo.

Of course, some of us had no choice but to first encounter the work of Kuro­sawa and oth­er 20th-cen­tu­ry Japan­ese auteurs in ver­sions dubbed into Eng­lish. In an uncan­ny rever­sal of that awk­ward­ness, the Amer­i­can-made Ghost of Tsushi­ma’s Japan­ese-lan­guage dia­logue comes out of mouths clear­ly syn­chro­nized to an Eng­lish-lan­guage script. West­ern crit­ics have tak­en the devel­op­ers to task for that short­com­ing, but Japan­ese crit­ics have proven com­par­a­tive­ly unre­strained in express­ing their admi­ra­tion. Accord­ing to Kotaku’s Bri­an Ashcraft, not only did pop­u­lar gam­ing site Denge­ki Online “praise the game for its under­stand­ing of the peri­od (as well as his­tor­i­cal Japan­ese movies), it also laud­ed the game for how it brought the land­scape and scenery to life.”

While Mac­Don­ald calls pro­tag­o­nist Jin Sakai “stiff even by sto­ical samu­rai stan­dards,” Ashcraft points to a review in Japan­ese pop-cul­ture site Aki­ba Souken which calls him not “the typ­i­cal samu­rai of for­eign cre­ation, but rather, a real Japan­ese 侍 (samu­rai),” using “both the Eng­lish ‘samu­rai’ and the word’s kan­ji to high­light this dis­tinc­tion.” Any Kuro­sawa fan will have a sense of the dif­fer­ence, and of the impor­tance of one thing the game does­n’t get right. In a review head­lined “There Is No Sense Of Dis­com­fort In This For­eign-Made Japan­ese World,” gam­ing mag­a­zine Week­ly Famit­su does note the game’s lack of “paus­es in con­ver­sa­tion that are typ­i­cal of peri­od pieces. That pause and that silence are key; in Japan, what isn’t said is just as impor­tant as what is.” Suck­er Punch’s Ghost of Tsushi­ma team must already know they should retain Kuro­sawa Mode for the inevitable sequel; all they need to work on is the unspo­ken.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Aki­ra Kurosawa’s Sev­en Samu­rai Per­fect­ed the Cin­e­mat­ic Action Scene: A New Video Essay

How Did Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Make Such Pow­er­ful & Endur­ing Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cin­e­mat­ic Genius

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Paint­ed the Sto­ry­boards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Com­pare Can­vas to Cel­lu­loid

The Gold­en Age of Ancient Greece Gets Faith­ful­ly Recre­at­ed in the New Video Game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mas­ter­piece Stalk­er Gets Adapt­ed into a Video Game

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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