A ‘Tonbei the Mist’ primer

Once upon a time, there was a ground-breaking Japanese TV series called Onmitsu Kenshin (or Onmitsu kenshi), starring Koichi Ose as Shintaro, wandering samurai detective protecting his half-brother the Shogun from various conspiracies and assassins. It was popular in Japan, but when the series shifted gears and integrated ninja as both friend and foe, it blew up and as The Samurai became an international sensation.

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International? Sure, it had a HUGE English-speaking fan base! How could you forget in 1965 when those early seasons were dubbed into English and aired on TV daily? Remember when Ose did that promotional tour, greeted by thousands of screaming fans at the airport ala The Beatles? Remember how each subsequent season got more and more popular, with more and more ninja action? Wasn’t it great how they were syndicated for decades after, followed by other dubbed shows like Phantom Agents! Does anyone still have their officially licensed plastic swords they got for Christmas, or the wildly popular Shintaro trading cards?

No… Drawing a blank…

Well, that’s because it all happened in fucking Australia!!!

Not here, NOOOOOO. Why would Americans want to see dozens of hours of Republic-serial like ninja warfare dubbed into perfect English? Fuck it, we’re fine with direct-to-video bullshit like Full Metal Ninja and Seven Lucky Ninja Kids. Give us turtles and leave us alone, we don’t want any of those historically credible martial arts espionage epics here. No way.

OK, bitter rant subsides for now – to the point.

TONBEI THE MIST!

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If Shintaro was Japan’s (and fucking Australia’s) Lone Ranger, then Tonbei was the Tonto. Played by career ninja legend Maki Fuyukichi – who would go on to the Watari the Ninja Boy live action film, play White Shadow in Masked Ninja Akakage, Henshin Ninja Arashi and dozens of other TV and movie shinobi roles – Tonbei was sort of half ace-in-the-hole / half comic relief.

Sure, he was Shintaro’s shadow – scout, spy, saboteur – but the character was so prone to capture and to showing up at fights just as Shintaro put the last ninja down, he became the butt of some unintentional humor.

Either way, Maki’s ‘man of Iga’ is a hugely important character in the development of the genre. Born in the mold of more serious ninja fare like Shinobi-no-mono, he was there to show off outre tools and arcane spy gadgets, give clinics on commando tactics and shadow skills, and get in all sorts of cool ass reverse-grip sword fights.

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So, we’ll be looking a lot at both The Samurai and Tonbei the Mist in coming months, and Maki was such a prolific ninja regular, he’ll be turning up constantly. Consider the below images a primer, and seek out the now out-of-print season box sets of the show on DVD. The best source of info on both the original Japanese show and it’s success in Oz can be found here.

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As of season 2, Tonbei was a regular sidekick to Shintaro, and could call in additional 'Men of Iga' as needed. Some of these actors left a bit to be desired in the skill and physicality departments...

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The producers learned early on that getting at least one or two mission-gear costume sequences in per show guaranteed ratings.

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Well used cramped sets - sneaking around and battling other suppa in the rafters above or the crawlspaces below houses were common sequences.

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Maki had great overtured posing and expressions. This pose, where he's flinging shuriken at the camera's POV (actually just an empty handed arm motion with whooshing foley) happened two or three times a show.

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And would be followed by an immediate, often grisly result. Check out that shuriken right in the mouth! Ow...

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"Historically accurate" gear, right out of secret scrolls and Hatsumi books, was often featured. Many episodes had Tonbei giving another character informal clinics on such gadgetry.

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Arcane techniques abound as well. Here, Tonbei spreads dust in a hallway to give away the trails of nocturnal invaders.

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He was a master of disguise, too, as this Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces get-up illustrates. Kinda gross, actually...

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However wide his shadow skill set, Tonbei's real job was getting captured by the enemy. He did his job well, he did his job often.

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Tonbei in suspension bondage, damsel in distress just fine. This is no isolated incident, it happened like every third episode.

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He often forgot to pack his Ninja Net-Proofing Spray, as well.

Amusing as the ‘sidekick-in-peril cliches’ become over the seasons of The Samurai, there are just as many great ninja battles, commando raids, trick weapon duels and other shinobi staples to keep things real. I absolutely love this series, and all jokes aside, if there’s one property I truly resent discovering now instead of in the 1980′s, it’s this one. And it was already in English! What’s the excuse???

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A company called Siren Visual put out seven ‘series’ (13 episode arcs) of the Australian TV broadcasts on DVD a few years back, but lost the license in 2008 and they’ve since been out of print. I’m told the series starting at 8 and 9 were totally amazing, too, so once again we’re shit out of luck… However, one of two feature-length films has made the trading rounds under the stiffly translated title “The Detective Fencer.” (I’d have called it ‘Samurai Sleuth’ LOL) The movie is one step above the show in production values, and delivers a relentless barrage of ninja combat. Highly recommended!

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Posted in Film and TV 5 years, 1 month ago at 2:18 am.

9 comments

9 Replies

  1. Eddie Mort Jul 11th 2009

    I never quite figured out why in Australia he was known as ‘Tombei the Mist’…maybe it was just bad dubbing

    Still one of my alltime fave series. If only there was a way to track down the remaining series that SirenVisual didn’t release, notably ‘Phantom Ninja’, ‘Puppet Ninja’ and Shintaro’s swansong (sob), ‘Contest of Death’.

    Come on KR – work those DVD contacts of yours…

  2. Eddie Mort Jul 11th 2009

    …and it really didn’t matter how dodgy looking the ‘men of Iga’ were; you knew they were all going to die after the next commercial break.

  3. daiwai May 24th 2010

    Hey dude, Daiwai the Aussie here, great site, great intro to The Samurai series! You are in luck, Siren has just re-released The Samurai ( Shintaro), it will be the complete 10 series apparently and for the first time in 45 years we get to hear it in the original Japanese!! with subtitles. Check out
    http://www.sirenvisual.com.au/Product/354.php
    Regarding your “bitter rant”, I hear ya, yes we Aussies were very lucky to get Shintaro back in the 60′s ( though my Mum ended up banning it and had to sneak off to mates place to see it!). HOWEVER we have only been seeing Kurosawa’s films and the host of Samurai flicks out there since the late 90′s!!! Yes we had Shintaro but that was it. I remember watching that lame ass Kevin Costner film bodygaurd and the only cool part was when he takes the chick to see Yojimbo, I thought “where the heck can I see that movie? What is it?”

    Its like watching Tarantino and the Magnificent Seven and so many other Hollywood appropriations of Japanese flicks- we just didnt get that connection because no one showed us Japanese film , so dont feel too hardly done by regarding Shintaro and Tombei the Klutz…keep up the good work man!

  4. daiwai Aug 18th 2012

    They were called Art House Cinemas, daiwai. I used to see Japanese films in the ’70s. My mother tells me she also saw such films in the ’50s and ’60s in Sydney.

  5. Sorry for name confusion. Goofed up.

  6. Grew up as a kid watching Shintaro and the Phantom agents in the 60′s. Loved it. We were running around dressed up as ninjas trying to jump up into trees !!!! and mainly out of them.
    Then went to school and got beat up during the week.
    At least on the weekends I could live out my dream as a ninja.
    Started doing karate few years later and realised what begins in your childhood stays with you for the rest of your life.(for me anyway)

  7. Shintaro fan Apr 20th 2014

    Grew up watching this series in Australia in the 60s and LOVED it!! Our Aussie ABC did a doco on the HUGE popularity of the series here….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLAkrBeb3Y4
    Cheers!

  8. Grew up watching this too in Malaysia during the sixties, never forgot, still love watching it after five decades..

  9. Daiwai Jun 23rd 2014

    Been loving the Japanese version with subtitles- so cool to learn Japanese language whilst watching Shintaro!
    Your website rules by the way! Thanks for turning me on to Zipang! Crazy cool!


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