Hattori Hanzo and Ninjas from feudal Japan to Kill Bill

[Reading time: 3 minutes]

Almost everybody knows Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece “Kill Bill” (2003), a movie focused on the story of Beatrix Kiddo, played by Uma Thurman, and her thirst for vengeance towards Bill.

Hattori from kill bill.jpg
In this movie Beatrix goes to japan to meet Hattori Hanzo and asks him to craft a Katana for her since he is the best katana crafter in the world.
This name, Hattori Hanzo, is not due to the imagination of Quentin Tarantino, in fact Hattori Hanzo was a famous ninja from a minor samurai family born and raised in Iga, a Japanese province which was famous for guerrilla warfare tactics and Ninjutsu. Hanzo’s legendary spear fighting skills and abilities would make him earn the nickname of “Oni no Hanzo”, which means Demon Hanzo. In the late XVI century he fought in many battles in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would become the first Shogun of Tokugawa’s legacy, that lasted until 1868.
Ninjas were mercenaries and spies who were trained in the Iga province, they were professional spies formed in specialized ninja clans and, during the Sengoku period (XV-XVI), they were actively employed by feudal lords. When Iga province was invaded and conquered by a lord of war, Oda Nobunaga, Ninja clans were swept away and those who survived Nobunaga’s fury found in Tokugawa Ieyasu a new lord to follow.
Hanzo was one of those Ninjas, and, moreover, he actually led a fantastic defence against Nobunaga’s army in 1580 and 1581 nevertheless he could not prevent Iga from being destroyed by Nobunaga. Then, in 1582, he saved Ieyasu’s life in Iga territories after Nobunaga’s death. Throughout his life, Nobunaga survived several attempts to his life carried out by ninjas.
Ninja disappeared, then, for all Tokugawa’s legacy period, so, until 1868 they remained forgotten. Eventually, with the Mejii period, Ninja started to became fundamental in Japanese folklore and archetypical images of ninja were spread all over the world. This archetypical image that become also the western image of ninja as a man that wears a total black suit is historically false, in fact they were masters of camouflage and used to dress as civilians of monks.
Sometimes a simple name in a movie is the result of centuries of history, legends and folklore.

Gabriele Marolla


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