Any Star Wars fan worth his Craitian salt would know that one of George Lucas' biggest inspirations for the film was legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s iconic 1958 film The Hidden Fortress.
That’s not the only time the Star Wars franchise has drawn from Japan though. From the samurai-influenced elements of Darth Vader’s helmet and the Jedi code of honour, to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s one-stroke final duel with Darth Maul in Star Wars Rebels, the entire Star Wars franchise is peppered with influences from Japanese culture and films.
But what if it were the other way around? What kind of stories would Star Wars inspire Japanese filmmakers, specifically producers of anime, to make?
This is the main concept behind Star Wars: Visions, an anthology of nine anime episodes made by seven different Japanese animation studios, each bringing its own unique storytelling and visual style to the board. These include Production I.G., best known for the iconic Ghost In The Shell, and Kamikaze Douga, known for its work on the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime.
According to Star Wars: Visions executive producer James Waugh, anime is something that has always influenced everyone behind the Star Wars franchise.
“We’re all really big fans of anime. It’s something that’s really influenced a lot of us ... you can see it in a lot of the work that’s been done at Lucasfilm,” he said during a recent video roundtable interview with regional media.
“The whole point of creating the Visions framework was to allow for this type of fun, celebratory storytelling to exist alongside any of our animation that’s tried and true,” he added.
According to producer Kanako Shirasaki, who previously worked on Netflix’s Eden anime series, Visions isn’t just about Japanese filmmakers making Japanese Star Wars stories, as each studio also has filmmakers of different cultures.
For instance, she explains, The Duel by Kamikaze Douga has a very “Kurosawa film aesthetic” and is a “samurai meets Star Wars short”. Other episodes, like Eunyoung Choi’s Akakiri, is the Korean director’s take on Japanese cinema, animation and Star Wars.
“Abel Góngora (who directed the droid-centric T0-B1) is a Spanish director making Japanese anime in Japan!“ she said. “You can see lots of different cultural aspects (in Visions)... so these are their interpretations of Japanese culture,” she said.
While the episodes are available in their original Japanese dialogue (and English subtitles), it is worth watching them in English as well, as the series features a stellar voice cast that includes the likes of Temuera Morrison (who plays Jango Fett in the Star Wars prequel movies and Boba Fett in The Mandalorian and the upcoming The Book Of Boba Fett), George Takei, Simu Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Liu, Karen Fukuhara, and even Malaysia’s very own Henry Golding.
Lucasfilm is famously strict when it comes to every aspect of the Star Wars franchise, from the continuity of the stories down to the number of buttons on Darth Vader’s chest plate, but for Visions, they allowed the anime studios free rein to do whatever they wanted.
“We approached Visions from a place that was very celebratory. This was a framework to allow creators to explore all the elements of the galaxy they love and tell their stories in their medium,” Waugh explains.
He adds that the initial brief to the studios was they were not looking for “deep lore stories” that tell the origin of a specific character or a defining story about a known character, but more original stories.
“We wanted to hear what they could do if all bets were off, and they could just use whatever elements from Star Wars they wanted!” he said.
In the end, Waugh said, they selected a diverse group of studios that managed to showcase the breadth of anime as a filmmaking medium.
“We selected these studios from a place of love because we really are fans of a lot of their work. They all did something a little differently. (Some) told quieter stories or more heartfelt stories or more romantic stories, and some are just bombastic action ... we wanted all of it!” he said.
Star Wars: Visions is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.