The Story Of The First African Samurai Is About To Be Made Into A Film

Black Samurai set to hit the cinemas near you soon.

The stories about the origins of Yasuke, the first African Samurai reported to have reached Japan are sketchy at best with conflicting backstories but that element hasn’t hampered the story itself.

Yasuke (believed to have lived during the 1500s) was a samurai who served under the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga in 1581 and 1582. The name “Yasuke” was granted to him by Nobunaga, although why and when is unclear. His original name is unknown (none that’s been found at this time); so it is unclear if Yasuke is a Japanese rendering of his previous name, or a wholly new name granted by his lord.

Going by the various write-ups on Yasuke, he could’ve been from Mozambique, Angola or Ethiopia. There is no definite consensus on his origins. In fact, his background is shrouded in mystery.

Yasuke is said to have arrived in Japan in 1579 in the service of an Italian Jesuit named Alessandro Valignano, and caused something of a sensation because of his black skin, which was still foreign to the Japanese at the time. It’s said that, in one event, several people were crushed to death while clamoring to get a look at him. In Japan, he met warlord Nobunaga who suspected that the dark color of his skin was ink and not natural. Nobunaga reportedly had him strip from the waist up and made him scrub his skin. Satisfied that he was in fact black, Nobunaga took deep interest in Yasuke eventually, and he was allowed to enter Nobunaga’s service, which is when available documentation on Yasuke’s life seems to really begin.

Described as healthy and good-looking with a pleasant demeanor, he was also quite tall and quite likely an intimidating presence for the Japanese at the time. He would rapidly rise in favor and status, until his became Nobunaga’s chief warrior, given a house to live and a ceremonial katana by Nobunaga.

Sadly, Yasuke’s career as a Samurai didn’t end well. In 1582, Nobunaga’s general, Mitsuhide, tried to overthrow him in a coup. Mitsuhide stormed the temple where Nobunaga was staying in Kyoto. Nobunaga, convinced of his imminent defeat at the hands of his treacherous general, committed Seppuku, ritual suicide. After Nobunaga’s death, Yasuke fled to the Azuchi castle and entered the service of Nobunaga’s son Odo Nobutada. His son however also committed suicide after suffering defeat at the hands of Mitsuhide.

Riding off the rush that came with usurping the Nobunagas, Mitsuhide was itching to change everything they established. He dismissed Yasuke as “a beast” and not a true samurai, because he wasn’t Japanese. Yasuke apparently offered his sword to Mitsuhide, as was customary, and returned to the service of the Jesuit Valignano, before soon falling into obscurity.

Now that we’ve established a bit of backstory, Lionsgate has commenced Highlander creator Gregory Widen to script Black Samurai, an action drama grounded in the historical tale of Yasuke. Mike De Luca and Stephen L’Heureux are producing, and the film is a co-production between Solipsist Films and De Luca Productions.

“[Black Samurai] is based on the true story of an African whose journey to Japan comes with conflicting background stories,” Gregory Widen tells Deadline. “The one I’ve chosen is that he was a slave soldier after the fall of Abysinnian Bengal, a black kingdom run by Ethiopians. He was sold into slavery and found himself in the care of Alessandro Valignano, an Italian missionary. They formed a bond, and when there were complications in Rome, he was sent to Japan and took Yasuke with him. There he met Oda Nobunaga, who was interested in all Western things, and through a series of bizarre events, the Jesuit left Yasuke with the warlord.”

Based on the fact that there’s little is actually known with certainty about Yasuke leaving a number of story paths can be taken, Widen’s quote above suggests a plan to incorporate some of what has been mostly accepted as fact. However, he’d be taking creative liberties with the parts of Yasuke’s story that are sketchy.

Featured Image Credit: Nicola Roos/Google

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