Jiraiya the Hero / Gōketsu Jiraiya / 豪傑児雷也 (1921) by Shōzō Makino

Jiraiya the Hero / Gōketsu Jiraiya / 豪傑児雷也 (1921)

Directed by Shōzō Makino.
Starring: Matsunosuke Onoe (Jiraiya); Suminojo Ichikawa (Orochimaru); Kijaku Otani (Tsukikagegunryo Miyukinosuke); Chosei Kataoka (Tsunatehime).
Lenght: 21 minutes.

One of the best-known works by Makino Shōzō, Jiraiya the Hero (Gōketsu Jiraiya, 1921) is a silent classic and one of several versions of the legendary ninja folk hero, Jiraiya, based on the folktale and novel Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (The Tale of Jiraiya the Hero), written in 1806, along with picture books published from 1839 to 1868: Jiraiya, the title character, is a ninja who uses shapeshifting magic to morph into a gigantic toad and other techniques, such as teleportation, water attacks and flying. During his journeys, he has to face his arch-enemy Orochimaru who mastered serpent magic.

In the role of the protagonist Matsunosuke Onoe, the “first star of Japanese cinema”, discovered by Makino Shōzō in 1909: “In 1909 Matsunosuke Onoe, then an unknown traveling kabuki actor, was discovered by Shozo Makino (1878-1929), a film director now regarded as ‘the Father of Japanese Film’. Makino cast Onoe in his film Goban Tadanobu, a production of Yokota & Co., which would later merge with 3 other companies to form the Nikkatsu Motion Picture Company.” (Yoshiro Irie. The First Movie Star in Japanese Film History, “Journal of Film Preservation”, 72, November 2006, 67-70). Between 1909 and 1926, Matsunosuke Onoe appeared in over 1,000 films, mostly one-reelers.

Thanks to the tricks used by the director, Jiraiya the Hero is the first tokusatsu or film with special effects made in Japan. The film, characterizse by long takes and long shots, does not have a unifying story line, but consists of some loose scenes, almost wholly of fight, that remind the kabuki tachimawari (stylized fighting scene similar to a ballet).


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