‘This work of fiction is not an accurate historical portrayal. Like we care. Now shut up and enjoy the show.’ With these title cards the anime series ‘Samurai Champloo’ announced itself to me with amusing aggression three years ago. It saved me during a lonely period stuck at home, and I’m still comforted by it now. It follows a vagrant, a rōnin and a young girl as they travel across Edo-era Japan to find ‘the samurai who smells of sunflowers’. Their adventure is weird, wild and moving.
The man behind it, Shinichirō Watanabe, already gave us the jazz-tastic sci-fi ‘Cowboy Bebop’ (check it out at Funimation). Also blessed with seriously Spotify-able theme music, ‘Samurai Champloo’ marries hip hop and Japanese history – all with a thoughtfulness that I love and deep themes that include repressed feelings, intergenerational change and frayed familial bonds. It immediately ticked all my boxes.
Its epic odyssey is a balm at a time when the living room walls seem to be closing in
Shinichirō’s love of splicing genres seeps into every detail, from Mugen’s breakdancing-like fighting style to scene transitions that use record scratches. ‘Champloo’ offers an electric combination of chanbara (sword-fighting) and a frankly incredible soundtrack.
But it’s not just the style that keeps me coming back. Its epic odyssey story is a balm at a time when the living room walls occasionally seem to be closing in. The show’s in-your-face style also makes a lot of room for gentle contemplation about bonds between people from different backgrounds and countries. ‘Samurai Champloo’ is occasionally melancholic but it’s also hopeful in its interactions between strangers – a show where you end up cherishing the memories of even the briefest encounters.
Available on Netflix in the UK and Amazon Prime in the US now.