A few weeks ago, Jha Goh wrote a post about whether steampunk Westerns could be considered non-Eurocentric, arguing that as long as the narrative is in the hands of the “neo-Europeans” aka, those people whose culture had derived from Europe, then these narratives are still “Eurocentric,” even if they take place outside of Europe.
Taking this into consideration, I’d argue that although Western narratives can be considered “Eurocentric,” the themes that are within the Western genre are non-Eurocentric and has evolved to become less Eurocentric. For this argument, I’ll examine Western filmmaking in particular, although other forms of Western genre exist in books, games, and other media.
The themes of Westerns include a focus on frontier lawlessness, the struggle for survival, vigilante justice, the struggle of good versus evil, the conflicts that occur during the process of industrialization, and the fight for independent living—these themes that have occurred in many places and times in history. Thus, the Western genre over time became co-opted by other filmmaking cultures which then created their own forms of “westerns.” Examples include Russian “Osterns,” which focused mainly on the Russian Civil War era after the Russian Revolution and took place in the steppes of Siberia and central Asia; interestingly enough, they are also Stalin’s favorite film genre (I consider Russia not a European, but a Eurasian country). Another is the recent Indian film Sholay that has been dubbed a “Curry Western.”
Moreover, as the Western genre evolved, its influences have drawn upon non-Eurocentric sources. One of the biggest ones upon the genre (and an influence for many other filmmakers in general) is Japanese cinema icon Akira Kurosawa and his samurai films. Kurosawa had a love for American westerns, which directly influenced several of his films. The Western motif is prominent in Seven Samurai, which, in turn, directly spawned The Magnificent Seven. Also, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the sequel Sanjuro with its “no name” protagonist influenced Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, featuring Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” character. There is even a listing dubbed “Kurosawa westerns” that feature several major films and their Kurosawa influences.
This cross-cultural cinematic relationship continues today. This week, I’ll review three “Asian westerns” that have come out in the past couple of years and examine how each film puts its own cultural spin on the traditional Westerns. And, of course, I think each one has its own potential for qualifying as Asian “Weird West.”
Filed under Essays, Review