THE SILVER CASE: What Is Uehara Kamui?

While the process entails battling the Matsumae oppressors, Worso specifically fights to stop “[t]he disturbance in the order of all things in nature” and “[t]he disturbances we now face in the order of all creation,” as well as “to maintain the ways handed down to us by our ancestors.” It is on this basis that he rejects wealth accumulation and claims to uphold pluralistic values, while Antonioni seeks material wealth and openly chooses genocide over coexistence.

Worso fights for these seemingly laudable perspectives. But what this Kamui is fighting against is just as important. The Europeans are characterized with such an ugly grab-bag of outright fascist xenophobia that it is almost parodic. One or two of these unfortunate tropes is not uncommon in pop culture, but all together paint a concerning picture. Not only do the foreign oni’s lower ranks move and behave like animals, but the Europeans are “demons” and “degenerate aristocrats,” always described and portrayed with dehumanizing language, who come to Japan specifically to prey on local women, kidnapping them to rape in their dungeons and, apparently, literally eat. Meanwhile, they use their financial power to secretly wrest control of the government from the Japanese Matsumae.

Screenshot from Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked. Visible from the chest up, Bulykin stands in a room with a lavish red carpet. Bulykin wears a red robe with ermine over a white shirt with jeweled buttons and golden trim. Bulykin has greenish skin, bulging eyes, a white hat with a blue jewel, a thin beard and mustache, and long hair worn in a shape resembling long horns. Golden jewel-studded jewelry holds this hairstyle in its shape.

This “degeneracy” is specifically linked to the Europeans’ gender and sexuality. The first oni leader the player fights, Bulykin, has a full beard but also makeup and prominent breasts and jewelry. They preside over a sex slave dungeon and gloat about how people like them possess “noble souls” the conservative Jin will never comprehend, mocking the notion of Bulykin’s queer expression.

Screenshot from Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked. A cutscene. In the foreground, Fuu is tied to a pole on the left. On the right, Antonioni menacingly leans over her. He is a tall, muscular figure wearing a leather face mask, a collar, black gloves, and a singlet with openings along the side that resembles a corset, though it does not cover his chest, over which he has several straps. There are three hearts in a column on the belly of his outfit. Antonioni looks away from the viewer, over his shoulder, to see Worso, who stands in the background.

Antonioni is gay-coded, a campy, buff man wearing leather bondage gear decorated with hearts. The camera focuses on his crotch and buttocks in an introductory cut scene where he threatens to rape Fuu and implies he is pedophile. The association of queerness, camp, and foreignness with rape, “degeneracy,” demons, cannibalism, and animalistic behavior is just dehumanizing bigotry. I had intended to address this in the previous chapter of this essay but could not find a way to fit it in.

Screenshot from Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked. Antonioni is standing straight up, talking. The subtitles give his dialogue: "Yes, the Blue Gem is indeed in my possession."

Certainly, the Europeans’ exaggerated accents (in the Japanese-language version), mishmash of names (Russian and Italian), and goofy dialogue are comedic. Antonioni is as much a hammy pro-wrestling heel as he is a sex freak. But this hardly undercuts the conservative narratives about queer identities as degenerate ideology the “West” forces on other countries and immigrants being shifty barbarians out to rape local women and subvert sovereignty. The bigotry of the material guts any legitimate critique of European colonialism. It also suggests that when Worso-Kamui insists on maintaining the ways of his ancestors and stopping the disturbances in the order of creation, he may be fighting a fascistic concept of “degeneracy.”