The Japanese inspiration for Star Wars has always been something that could be found in many of the different parts of the lore. Of course, while Star Wars has largely been Western in most of its aspects, the Jedi Order and the Jedi themselves were always seen as Eastern in terms of their inspiration. That was when the concept of Zatochi was mentioned during episode 3 of ‘Ahsoka.’ So, what is Zatochi in ‘Ahsoka’?
Zatochi is the art of blind sparring, as was shown when Ahsoka Tano made Sabine Wren wear a visored helmet that obscured her vision. This practice allows the Jedi to trust more in their senses and in the Force to tell where the attack is coming from and to react even before the attack is delivered.
Zatochi seems to have Eastern roots in the sense that the Japanese have a series of samurai movies featuring the blind samurai named Zatoichi. In that regard, the samurai inspiration in Star Wars continues in ‘Ahsoka,’ as the Eastern roots were well-incorporated into the series. That said, let’s look at what Zatochi is and how Japanese culture inspired it.
George Lucas’ samurai inspiration is well-documented
When Star Wars was released in the latter part of the 70s, people quickly got into this space opera. Of course, one of the things that was clear about Star Wars was that this storyline was inspired by Western concepts, especially regarding all of the high-speed dogfights in outer space and the gunslinging between the characters.
But while that may be true, the thing is that Star Wars also has its own Eastern influences. The Western concepts are clearly there, especially regarding the gunslinging and the different outlaws we see. But the Jedi were actually Eastern in terms of their inspiration because it is clear that they were borrowed from the Japanese samurai.
In fact, George Lucas admitted that he was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. The movie that inspired him the most was ‘The Hidden Fortress,’ which was released in 1958. Of course, there are a lot of different samurai and Japanese concepts incorporated into the Star Wars lore, especially when it comes to the discipline, beliefs, and valor of the Jedi. In fact, the way that the Jedi fight using the lightsaber is also borrowed from the Akira Kurosawa samurai films.
So, while Lucas didn’t work on every Star Wars project, those who know and love his work could carry on the same Eastern inspiration. In ‘Star Wars: Rebels,’ Dave Filoni incorporated Lucas’ samurai inspiration into the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. The fact that the fight was over in just a few moves was borrowed from Kurosawa’s movies, as the samurai were known not to drag out fights and would rather finish them with a few precise hits that were carefully planned out.
Of course, Filoni worked on his first live-action series in the form of ‘Ahsoka,’ which didn’t waste time introducing another Japanese-inspired concept. Ahsoka Tano herself has a few Eastern concepts in her design, as she wears non-Western clothes that align with Eastern robes. On top of that, the design of her lightsabers was clearly inspired by the samurai katana.
There’s also the fact that episode 3 allowed us to see another Japanese samurai-inspired concept introduced. After Huyang finished sparring with Sabine Wren, Ahsoka suggested using Zatochi in Sabine’s training. Of course, those familiar with Japanese words would instantly think that Zatochi is Japanese.
However, the word “Zatochi” was derived from Zatoichi, which is the name of the protagonist of the classic Samurai stories written by Kan Shimozawa. His works were turned into films starring the titular Zatochi character, a blind swordsman during the latter part of Japan’s Edo period. The original Zatochi films had 26 movies from 1962 until 1989. The movies were remade twice, in 2003 and 2010.
While the Zatoichi movies aren’t necessarily Kurosawa movies, they are still some of the best samurai movies in Japan because they portray the story of a blind swordsman who is seemingly harmless due to his visual impairment. However, with a sword in his hands, he is extremely dangerous as he can sense his opponents’ movements and counter them with his own strike even though he cannot see them.
The concept of Zatochi is used for Jedi training
Dave Filoni actually incorporated the Zatoichi movies in ‘Ahsoka’ by using the Zatochi concept. In the episode, Ahsoka told Huyang that Sabine should try Zatochi, to which the droid responded that the Mandalorian Padawan wasn’t ready. And there’s a good reason why Huyang believed that Sabine wasn’t ready for Zatochi.
Ahsoka made Sabine wear a helmet with a visor that obscured her vision. The purpose of this training was for Sabine to be able to trust in her other senses and in the Force to determine where her opponent was and where the attack was coming from. Ahsoka allowed Sabine to try to telegraph her movements by making her predict how and where she would attack.
The thing about this concept of training is that it was never uncommon. In the Jedi Temple, the younglings were made to undergo a more tech-based type of Zatochi training by allowing them to wear helmets that obscured their vision. At the same time, they used their lightsabers to deflect harmless attacks from a combat remote droid. We saw this very same concept in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ when Obi-Wan Kenobi was telling Luke to trust the Force without using his eyes.
As such, the purpose of this training was to allow the Jedi to predict movements and see through the Force instead of through their eyes. We saw how Kanan Jarrus could still fight effectively in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ without using his eyesight. And that’s because he trusted in his training and the Force.
Of course, Ahsoka is aware that Sabine’s connection to the Force is weaker than almost any other Padawan in the history of the Jedi Order. That was why she was training her to trust more in her other senses than in the Force. And she even complimented how Sabine was doing well after their first training session together.
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