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A rare glimpse inside a samurai sword workshop, where ritual meets mastery

‘Between the samurai and his blade was formed a binding spiritual union of man and steel.’

In the 1969 short documentary The Japanese Sword as the Soul of the Samurai, the US filmmaker Kenneth Wolfgang (1931-2011) is allowed rare access to the Tokyo workshop of a master samurai swordsmith to explore the craft and history behind the iconic Japanese weapon. Instantly recognisable for its elegant shape and sharp cutting edge, the samurai sword was long one of the most fearsome weapons in the world, as well as an object of great symbolic importance in premodern Japan. Here, its creation is documented in rich detail as a swordsmith and his apprentices hammer, fold and weld to create a near-perfect steel blade in a process that melds expert craftsmanship with Shinto religious ritual. Alongside the workshop footage, Wolfgang uses traditional Japanese woodblock paintings, dolls and the narration of the US actor George Takei (Lt Sulu in Star Trek) to take the audience through the sword’s history – from its mythological origins and into the 20th century, well past the samurai era. In doing so, Wolfgang demystifies the object for Western audiences while also conveying its deep significance to Japanese history and myth.

24 March 2022

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