Yasuke: A Not-So-True Version of a True Story – Netflix Review

The creator of Cannon Busters brings us the story of the only black samurai.

SUMMARY

In a version of feudal Japan populated by magic, mecha, and monsters, a former samurai, the only African retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga (Takehiro Hira), named Yasuke (Jun Soejima/LaKeith Stanfield) has spent twenty years in hiding as a boatman. He previously watched the fall of Nobunaga to the forces of the Dark Daimyo (Yoshiko Sakaibara/Amy Hill), a powerful dark magic user. Now, a young girl named Saki (Kiko Tamura/Maya Tanida) who has magical powers is being hunted by Catholic Church operative Abraham (Shigeru Ushiyama/Dan Donohue) as well as the forces of the Dark Daimyo. Yasuke must help keep the girl safe from robots, werebears, mutants, and madmen.

Rowing a boat in Feudal Japan apparently keeps you absolutely jacked. Makes sense.

END SUMMARY

So, I deeply suspect that this series was commissioned back when Chadwick Boseman was set to produce and star in a film adapting the life of the real Yasuke back in 2019. Unfortunately, as we now know, Boseman’s illness was winning and he was unable to make the movie in his lifetime. I think that’s why this version went ahead and took so many creative turns, including the over-the-top fantasy/sci-fi kitchen sink world, because it was assuming people would just have seen a terrific performance of the real story. 

Wakanda Forever.

The story of the real Yasuke is one of the more interesting historical oddities about Japan. Yasuke was, as the show depicts, an African who was in service of a Jesuit missionary who came to the capital of Japan. When the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga saw him, he supposedly didn’t realize that his skin was black, thinking that Yasuke was either very dirty or completely tattooed. This led, somehow, to Yasuke entering Nobunaga’s service and, eventually, fighting for the Daimyo during the war that would become his downfall. He usually is considered to be the only black samurai (although he probably didn’t actually have that title). 

He might even have been memorialized by this ink box.

Because the series veers so far from reality, it allows for incredibly creative powers, characters, and visuals. For example, among the mercenaries that serve Abraham are a Russian woman who is also a werebear (Hiroki Nanami/Julie Marcus), an assassin with giant scythes (Eri Kitamura/Dia Frampton), an African shaman who summons warriors (Kenji Kitamura/William Christopher Stevens), and a hilarious malfunctioning robot (Shunsuke Kubozuka/Darren Criss). Watching them fight a samurai is an amazing sequence that would be hard to put in any other medium and would be impossible to put in almost any other series.

Ah yes, the traditional Shaman/Samurai/Robot fight.

The voice acting is naturally great, regardless of the language. The soundtrack is amazing and is used to emphasize the story and Yasuke’s journey in a way that is reminiscent of James Gunn or Edgar Wright. The animation is very stylized and I’m a big fan of it. The biggest downside to the series is that it does require a lot of your attention to keep track of events sometimes, with major plot points being only a single line or two. To its credit and detriment, it is very short. 

Great visuals.

Overall, I thought this show was great. I recommend you give it a try. Just don’t expect it to be a true story of Yasuke.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Judas and the Black Messiah: A True and Tragic Tale – Oscar HBO Max Review

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya headline this story of an up-and-coming civil rights leader.

SUMMARY (Spoilers if you haven’t heard the story)

In the 1960s, Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested for hijacking a car while pretending to be a Federal Agent. FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) agrees to drop the charges if O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois Black Panthers and spies on their leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Hampton is one of the biggest threats on the FBI’s list because of his ability to persuade rival organizations to work together in advancing civil rights causes, a group he calls the Rainbow Coalition. Hampton is set up for taking ice cream bars to give to local kids (yes, really) and sentenced to two to five years (YES. REALLY). During this period, O’Neal rises through the ranks of the Black Panthers, eventually becoming head of security. When Hampton is released for his appeal, O’Neal is paid to drug him so that Hampton cannot fight back when the FBI and local police raid his home in order to kill Hampton in the presence of his pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). So ends the 21 year life of a man whose personality and charisma were so threatening to the establishment they had to execute him.

Daniel Kaluuya is a decade older than Fred Hampton was when he died.

END SUMMARY

I had originally declined to review this film not because it wasn’t great but because I only watched it 3 days before it left streaming and I didn’t want to go “THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING, SO WATCH IT IN THE NEXT 12 HOURS.” That said, this movie is amazing and you should watch it (at your own pace). 

I wouldn’t stab you in the back like that.

The murder of Fred Hampton is, much like the Tulsa Race Massacre, a thing that is incredibly horrible and also largely unknown to many people. Just as Watchmen and Lovecraft Country sought to bring the former event to the attention of the general public, this film and, to a lesser extent, The Trial of the Chicago 7 seek to bring attention to the fact that a man was murdered by law enforcement because he was seeking to stop racism and inequality. The fact that not a ton of (certain) people know about it is even more insane when you realize that it resulted in the largest settlement in any civil rights case and, as shown in this film, had a person literally testify on public television that he was hired by the Federal Government to help kill him.

The real Fred Hampton.

This movie, much like many retellings of the life of the Messiah, does a great job of splitting the focus between Fred Hampton as a figure capable of uniting a bunch of disparate people and O’Neal as the traitorous man who is constantly questioning what he is doing. The thing is, O’Neal always has a choice, but it’s also insane that the FBI was asking him to do this. While some of the events in the film are exaggerated or based on accusations that haven’t been confirmed, more of it is accurate than you would probably like to believe. For example, having an informant with a warrant that allowed the FBI to raid places where he hid is a horrible violation of civil rights, a tactic that actually mirrors a violation of the Geneva Convention if done in war, and also something the FBI probably did, but I don’t think we have any direct confirmation of it. 

It doesn’t help the government’s case that they literally had a spy planted.

The performances by Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are phenomenal. Kaluuya makes Hampton human but also shows us the kind of charisma that a person would need to convince so many people to follow him. He’s always focused on getting people to join together rather than letting them be separated by petty differences. Lakeith Stanfield makes O’Neal into a person who clearly makes the wrong choices and doesn’t really try to change, which, if his interview is anything to go by, is probably accurate. Dominique Fishback plays Deborah Johnson as someone who is equally in love with Hampton the man and also the future he represents. 

It’s a cute moment.

Overall, fantastic movie. Really recommend it. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.