”Familiar but unfamiliar” From Kyoto to Catwalk

The exhibition “Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk” at the Victoria and Albert Museum(V&A) in London explains how Kimono inspired Western movie costumes and stage costumes for rock singers. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Bjork and others have been featured, but in this post I want to focus on one movie series. It is a series of Star Wars by George Lucas.

These two images(above) have a common point that is hard to notice. On the left is a work by illustrator Kasho Takabata, who attracted Japanese girls before WWII. On the right is Queen Apailana from the V&A catalog. This is a Queen from “Star Wars: Episode Ⅲ Revenge of the Sith” (2005). V&A curator Josephine Rout pointed out that the gown was worn according to the rules of kimono wearing, and the pattern of the gold fabric was arrow feathers. In other words, they wore kimonos with a pattern often used for young women before the war.

By the way, the queen’s sash wrapped around a gown is more like a heko obi wrapped around a casual cotton yukata, rather than a formal obi.

A woman in a yukata on the left wrapped a colorful heko obi. What we sell in our store is for men like the one on the right. Soft and thin silk fabric, 60 cm wide and 350 cm long.

The world of Star Wars is full of kimono-inspired costumes.The curator,Rout quotes the queen and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s outfits in a catalog.It is famous that George Lucas was inspired by the Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa’s historical drama(Jidai-geki). And the curator of V&A introduces the memory of the costume designer. Lukas wanted Obi-Wan to look partly a monk and partly a samurai. In other words, he wanted to be “familiar but at the same time unfamiliar”. Rout points out that Kimono was the ideal solution.

Indeed, it looks more like a medieval monk in Europe than a samurai. However, the appearance of hanging a light saver (sword) on Obi like an inro, an accessory that also serves as a medicine container, is close to Samurai. In the first place, the name Obi-Wan is said to be based on the “No. 1 Obi”, that is, the person with the highest obi. There is a theory that the family name “Kenobi” is from the Japanese black belt (kuro obi), but I think it can be interpreted as a combination of sword (ken) and obi (obi).

Inro from V&A Catolog

In The Gurdian’s article “My favotite film:Seven Samurai”(14 Dec 2011), Laurence Topham interprets that Obi-Wan and others as samurai without a monarch, or Ronin. ”Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Chewbacca are ronin (masterless samurai), light-sabres are samurai swords (rather obvious, I guess) and the Force is a supernatural version of the Bushidõ samurai moral code. ”

Many point out that Star Wars is inspired not only by kimonos, but by all aspects of Kurosawa historical drama(Jidai-geki) films. It is very interesting to watch a video comparing two movies. This is a samurai action movie set in space. However, it must be remembered that the Kurosawa samurai action films were also influenced by Hollywood Westerns.