With the WWII Pacific conflict with Japan still fresh in the memoriesof most adult Australians, a TV show that was completely Japanese intraditional culture, dress, martial arts and violence appearedsuddenly on Australian after-school screens. Within weeks, The Samuraikicked The Mickey Mouse Club off it’s mantle to become the most popularchildren’s show in Australia.
The Samurai sensation that swept a nation.
The Samurai had many angry adult critics. Only 20 years before Australia had been in a life and death struggle with Japan. The bombing of Darwin, and the titanic fight against the Japanese Army in New Guinea were deeply ingrained in Australian culture. Channel Nine was bombarded with letters demanding the show be taken off air, but far outweighing the generational anger was the overwhelming response from children. The show was a ratings sensation.
For 30 minutes a day, 5 days week, Australian children watched their hero, Shintaro battle his mysterious Ninja enemies. On the surface, The Samurai was about flashing swords and flying stars, but there was a strong moralistic value of good triumphing over evil; a Japanese version of heroes defeating villains in the style of the classic western. For the first time Australian children had access to a culture radically different from their own and they embraced it with vigor. In their minds it was theirs alone, and innacessible to their parents.
At the height of The Samurai sensation, merchandising made a fortune. Children bought the Scanlen’s bubble gum collect-a-cards, toy samurai swords, ninja stars, and samurai and ninja costumes literally by the truck load. Those who couldn't afford the merchanise, made their own. Dyed black pajamas became ninja costumes, kids made wooden samurai swords and tin lids were cut into ninja flying stars. In playgrounds and backyards, ‘cowboys and indians’ was replaced by ‘samurais and ninjas’. Home made, razor sharp flying stars were confiscated by parents and teachers across the country.
In 1965, a Sydney promoter, booked The Samurai’s star, Koichi Ose (Shintaro) for a promotional tour and live action shows based on the series.
On Christmas Day 1965, Koichi Ose arrived from Japan and was greeted with a superstar’s welcome by 6,000 fans at Mascot Airport, many wearing ninja costumes. On the night of 5 January 1966, Ose flew to Melbourne to a deafening welcome from over 7,000 fans. He had no idea of his popularity and was completely overwhelmed. It was the biggest crowd at Essendon Airport since the arrival of The Beatles, a fact reported in the astonished Japanese press.
Koichi Ose performed 12 shows in 15 days at the Sydney Stadium and at Festival Hall in Melbourne before returning to Japan. Before capacity crowds of 6,000 people he slew dragons and fought fight Ninjas to the delight of his young audience and their possibily bewildered parents.
Shintaro! The Samurai Sensation That Swept a Nation is a cultural exploration into how and why Australian children took so fanatically to a show from a radically different world. It looks at children’s perception and the equally profound perception of their parents and grandparents.
The Samurai has left an endearing legacy in the hearts and minds of the Australians who experienced a unique sensation which swept a nation.
This is a unique Australian story which needed to be told.
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