Today is the anniversary of the debut of Samurai Futaba on Saturday Night Live (1975). Below is an excerpt from Saturday Night Live FAQ to commemorate the special occasion.
In addition to his rants on Weekend Update, John Belushi was given the chance to let loose by inhabiting the body of a Japanese samurai, one of the elite warriors who served the feudal lords of preindustrial Japan. The samurai practiced a strict code of conduct known as Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) that valued chiv- alry, loyalty, and honor. A samurai who was dishonorable, or may have brought shame upon himself, or would rather die with honor than fall into enemy hands performed a form of ritual suicide known as seppuku or hara-kiri by sticking a sharp blade in his abdomen. The samurai was popularized by Japanese cinema, particularly in the films of director Akira Kurosawa such as Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), and Yojimbo (1961), all of which starred Toshiro Mifune.
According to Judith Belushi Pisano, Mifune was the inspiration for her husband’s Samurai Futaba character. She told Michael Streeter, author of Nothing Lasts Forever: The Films of Tom Schiller, that John started to imitate Mifune after watching a Japanese film festival on television. “John would sit so close to the television,” Belushi Pisano recalled, “that when there was a close-up of Mifune, it appeared as if he was looking in a mirror—John would reflect what he saw.” She gave him a robe, a rubber band to put his hair up, and a clothes bar from a closet to use as a sword. Belushi auditioned for the show with the Samurai character playing pool, which is how writer Tom Schiller got the idea of “Samurai Hotelier.” Lorne Michaels, who worked on the sketch with Schiller, Chevy Chase, and Alan Zweibel, thought some people wouldn’t know what a “hotelier” is, so they changed the title of the sketch to “Samurai Hotel.” Zweibel wrote the remaining sketches, though Schiller provided him with a list of possible occupations for Samurai Futaba.
Each sketch works off the same premise: Samurai Futaba, who is dressed in traditional Samurai garb and has a limited understanding of the English language, has a different profession that’s incongruous with being a samurai warrior. In his sketch debut (1.7), Samurai Futaba faces off with a bellboy samurai (host Richard Pryor) over who is going to take a guest’s (Chase) bag up to his room. Belushi enjoys playing with his sword, using it to mime a golf putter and, like his audition, a pool cue. After some swordplay, Futaba insults the bellboy with the Japanese version of the traditional maternal insult (“Your momma-san”). The bellboy reacts by splitting the front desk in two with his sword.
Samurai Futaba responds with the only English words we ever hear him speak— “I can dig where you’re comin’ from . . .”—as he takes the guest’s bag up to his room.
From season 1 to his final episode in season 4, Belushi repeated the role in a series of sketches featuring Buck Henry or another guest host as his customer or patient, who seems oblivious to the fact he’s a Samurai as he engages in small talk, which Futaba at times seems to understand. Belushi comically responds with grunts and Japanese gibberish, along with the raising of his bushy eyebrows and his sword. When the customer is displeased, Futaba kneels on the floor and pulls out his sword as if he is about to commit hara-kiri (at that point the customer usually assures him it’s all right). The sketch ends with Futaba raising his sword—with a freeze-frame and Don Pardo inviting us to “Tune in next week, for another episode of Samurai _______.”
Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.
Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.
It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.
Posted on December 13, 2013, in Comedy, Film & TV and tagged Applause Theatre, book excerpt, John Belushi, Samurai Futaba, Saturday Night Live, Saturday Night Live FAQ, SNL, SNL FAQ, Stephen Tropiano, Toshiro Mifune. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.