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Empires - Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire
Empires - Japan Memoirs of a Secret Empire
Genres: Documentary
NR     2004     2hr 40min

The mysteries of feudal Japan are thoroughly explored in Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire, originally presented on PBS as part of its excellent nonfiction series Empires. The history covered in this 160-minute, two-part p...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 04/27/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 2hr 40min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Worth the price of admission
Daniel C. Wilcock | Washington, D.C. | 10/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary culls together troves of research and brings together a credible group of experts who tell the story of Japan's "renaissance." Three centuries of self-imposed isolation and societal discipline defined Japan, and this period deserves study by those who seek to understand modern Japan.

The stregnths of the film can easily be seen: excellent source material, most stikingly the use of traditional art to convey history. Also, for the purpose of educating Westerners, the documentary dwells on the accounts of the scattered missionaries who either suffered or prospered under the Japanse order.

The film employs many Japanese actors, editors and producers, thus enhancing its authenticity. The credit reel attests to a trans-pacific endeavor.

The photography on the recreated scenes is striking, even hautingly beautiful. But too many of the images are recycled througout the film to annoying effect. The same image of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man who unites Japan under his shogunate, is used to display him both as a young man and as an elder leader.

But if you can get behind this minor annoyance as well as the sometimes cliched narration, most viewers - be it a Japan scholars or those who don't know anything about this island empire - will gain something. B+"
Well worth the money
Just the facts, please | Florida | 07/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Overall I was glad I got this DVD. Like other reviews, I was also frustrated by the recycling of some scenes, but that happens in many documentaries so I wasn't that disappointed. If you don't know much about this period of Japan, I definitely recomend this DVD. Even if you do know a lot, it's still worth it for the stories, costumes, and the amount of info they provide. The film quality is good (as it should be) and so is the music. Unlike most documentaries that try to fit everything into 1 hour, you get three discs with this set. It's a lot for the money and well worth it."
A valuable pedagogical tool.
Miguel B. Llora | Bay Point, California USA | 12/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In Empires - Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire, we see Japan covered through one of its more turbulent eras. We begin with the very first European contact in the mid-16th century. The series explores early unsuccessful tries by the Japanese to establish trade while at the same time still wishing to protect and uphold their own cultural values. The series transitions into the exploation of Japan's self-imposed 200-year period of "seclusion" from the "barbarians," and concludes with the "opening" after a long period of isolation with the unexpected (and unsolicited) arrival of US steamships in the mid-19th century, forcing Japan to "open" to the rest of the world. Ironically, it already was.

In Episode I: The Way of the Samurai, we are treated to an exploration of the period from 1543, when the Portuguese set foot in Japan. According to this rendition they found a country in turmoil and divided through civil war, up until the early 17th century. An important segment is the treatment of the battle of Sekigahara - a battle that changed Japanese history forever, and the early rulers of the whole of Japan. The introduction of firearms came way before the Meiji era as implied by movies like "The Last Samurai." In Episode II: The Will of the Shogun, we are transported back to the mid 17th century and the beginning of Japan's period of self-imposed isolation from foreigners - just where Episode I leaves off. There is the treatment of the story of William Adams, the united rule of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the establishment of a strict class system administered by the revered samurai. Last, in Episode III: The Return of the Barbarians, we see how in the period from mid 17th century to late 19th century the only exception to the rule of no contact with the outside world was a small community of Dutch traders led by Dr Kaempfer in Nagasaki impacted Japan. We see how the rule of the fifth Shogun Tsunayoshi influenced Japanese society in a new direction. We see life in the flourishing 18th century city of Edo. Finally, we see the dissolution of the samurai and the long-held societal classes. In this episode we see a Japan, challenged to respond to the US incursion with the arrival of Matthew Perry and his steamships in 1853, demanding the opening up of trade transitioning Japan into its more modern.

Although at time hinting dangerously of an essential, primordial, and "uniquely unique" Japan, the narrations are well written, well crafted and well produced. They are highly enlightening as well as very educational. I would encourage all educators in this area to use this as a valuable pedagogical tool.

Miguel Llora"
A Whirlwind Overview
Shane | Lynden, WA USA | 10/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This PBS documentary is, as stated in the title, a quick and selective historical narrative. It mostly covers the Tokogawa political history and the impact of the West, especially that of Christianity. It takes the viewer from the beginning of Shogun Japan through to its demise. In other words, from the time Westerners first reached Japan until the arrival of Commodore Perry. This video uses a compilation of sources from an outside point of view as well as using local historical documentation. It focuses on the differences of Japan in comparison to the West and the depth and advancements of the complexities of historical Japan. I enjoyed the use of dramatic recreation, but thought that it could have gone into more detail on the cultural aspects of isolationalism. This video is great for those who wish to learn more about Japan's past and have no prior historical knowledge of this era."