The Legend of the Sanada 10 Braves

Film poster for Sanada 10 Braves

The Siege of Ōsaka Castle was the last stand for the Toyotomi clan against the new shogunate which Tokugawa Ieyasu established in 1603. It was the final chance for the Toyotomi to take back the country and they had a number of samurai willing to help. One of them was Sanada Yukimura. He had sided with the Western Army during the Sekigahara Campaign in 1600 and his support continued well into the Siege of Ōsaka Castle. His glorious death in the summer of 1615 became a tale that would be told for centuries to come. One of these stories was about a band of fictional ninja bodyguards that served Sanada Yukimura during this siege. They are simply known as the Sanada Ten Braves.

Tales about these ninja appeared in a book called Sanada Sanadaiki which was published sometime towards the end of the Edo Period going into the Meiji Period, but their story did not become famous until it was published sometime around 1912/1913.(1) Published in a series of juvenile books called the Tachikawa Pocket Books, this story was different when it came to the portrayal of ninjas. Up until this point, ninjas in fiction were seen as the antiheroes. The Sanada Ten Braves, however, flip the script on this, and became some of the first ninjas seen as heroes.(2) They worked alongside Sanada Yukimura and other brave figures of the day, however, their story takes place during the final battle of the Sengoku Jidai.

The Ten Braves are:

  • Sarutobi Sasuke
  • Kirigakure Saizō
  • Miyoshi Seikai
  • Miyoshi Isa
  • Anayama Kosuke
  • Unno Rokurō
  • Kakei Jūzō
  • Nezu Jinpachi
  • Mochizuki Rokurō
  • Yuri Kamanosuke(3)

Only two of these men have become extremely popular throughout the years and interestingly, most of the time, not all of the Ten Braves appear alongside one another.(4) In recent years, some of the characters have changed genders depending on writer or producer. The one who tends to become a female is Kirigakure while the other is Anayama. The Miyoshi brothers tend to be portrayed as nyuudou monks.(5) While less is known of most of the Ten, Sarutobi Sasuke and Kirigakure Saizō tend to take the spotlight and are the two the appear the most in Japanese pop culture outside of the Ten.(6)

Sarutobi Sasuke

Sarutobi Sasuke as he appears in Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Kings

Out of the Ten, Sarutobi Sasuke is probably the most well-known considering the characters he has inspired. Sasuke brings in the Journey to the West references and is seen as the first Japanese version of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong.(7) The name Sarutobi literally translates to “flying monkey” and he has a personality that is extremely similar to his Chinese counterpart. His backstory even has him being raised by monkeys until a ninja master finds him and trains him in the ways of Kōga ninjitsu. One day, Sanada Yukimura happens across him and is amazed by his skill and mischievous behavior. He offers Sasuke work under the Sanada banner, which Sasuke accepts. He later is promoted to the head of the Sanada Ten Braves.(8) It is said that Sasuke either perished on the field of battle in the final battle against the Tokugawa in 1615, killed himself after being caught in a bear trap while trying to infiltrate a Tokugawa stronghold, or slipped away in the aftermath.(9) Sasuke has been the inspiration for many fictional ninja characters, with “Sasuke” becoming synonymous with “ninja”. Famous examples of inspiration have been Goku from Dragon Ball and Uchiha Sasuke from Naruto.(10)

Kirigakure Saizō

Kirigakure Saizō as he is portrayed in Brave 10

While Kirigakure Saizō is the other famous ninja out of the Ten, his background tends to be more mysterious and he is the exact opposite of Sasuke. Many historians believe that he his based off a man named Kirigakure Shikaemon, a ninja who was employed by Sanada Yukimura.(11) What is known is that Saizō was supposedly a brother to Ishikawa Goemon and trained alongside him, learning Iga ninjitsu from none other than Momochi Tanba.(12) He managed life as a bandit who lived in the mountains near Himeji where Sasuke managed to find him and made him one of Sanada Ten Braves. Because his name literally means “cloaked in mist”, his ninja abilities are more in stealth, rather than agility, which is more of Sasuke’s forte.(13) Compared to Sasuke, he is level-headed, mature, handsome and even sometimes, feminine.(14) These two men also represent the Iga-Kōga rivalries that are usually depicted in folklore, the more well-known being the rivalry between Hattori Hanzō (Iga) and Fūma Kotarō (Kōga).(15) Unfortunately, it is unknown what happens to Saizō at Ōsaka, but many retellings of the story have him perishing alongside the other nine.

Recently, the Sanada Ten Braves became the major players for a film that was released in 2016, titled Sanada 10 Braves. It is one of the most recent retellings of this tale and one of the few modern day versions that have (almost) all ten. It also brought to light some very interesting things of note regarding the Siege at Ōsaka.

NOTE: From this point on, this article will disclose major plot points in the 2016 film Sanada 10 Braves. A SPOILER ALERT is now in affect.

Sanada 10 Braves (2016)Review

Cast of Sanada 10 Braves

I will admit I was puzzled by the description of the film before I watched it. Amazon Prime Video’s description is as follows: “Despite his manly appearance and reputation, Yukimura Sanada is a coward. A bunch of ninja decide to help him to be a real hero.”(16) The word “coward” is something most historians who study this era would not use when describing Sanada Yukimura, but it is something the film unloads on you right off the bat. In an opening anime sequence, Sanada Yukimura saves a woman from Sarutobi Sasuke, who is baffled that he is in the presence of one of Japan’s greats. Yukimura downplays his exploits and calls himself an “extremely common” man. To me, I do not label this as cowardly. Extreme modesty, yes, but not cowardly. 

Interestingly, it is one of the first films I have seen that have made Tokugawa Ieyasu as the villain. Considering that we are supposed to be rooting for the Toyotomi and the Sanada, this is obvious, but still, I found this to be a bit of a shock. I have talked about how difficult it would be to make Ieyasu a villain in the eyes of historians in my article on Ishida Mitsunari, but to actually see it in film was odd to say the least. Perhaps because I am used to Ieyasu being the hero, it was somewhat jarring to see him on the other side of things. It worked for the film, though, considering that the point of view is coming from the Toyotomi and the Sanada, both clans that hold resentment toward the Tokugawa.(17)

We are quickly introduced to the next eight: Kirigakure Saizō, the brothers Miyoshi Seikai and Isa, Jūzō Kakei and Unno Rokurō are all introduced without much being known about them. Yuri Kamanosuke has an interesting backstory though. According to the film’s dialogue, he was a foot soldier for “Lord Ukita of Bizen” and the group is surprised to learn that he survived Sekigahara. The man he served was none other than Ukita Hideie, one of the major players in the Sekigahara Campaign and fought for the Western Army, who fled to Satsuma after the battle.(18) Mochizuki Rokurō already served the Sanada clan, who was training Yukimura’s son, Sanada Daisuke. The last of the Ten is brought in right before the beginning of the Winter Siege of Ōsaka in 1614. The man was impersonating one of the Miyoshi brothers to get better treatment and money around Ōsaka. It is revealed that he was once a samurai but now is a farmer because he fell into financial ruin. He becomes the tenth member: Nezu Jinpachi.

The film paints Sanada Yukimura out to be a man who is hesitant to voice his opinion on matters, especially during war councils because of his reputation, which he constantly downplays around his men. It is the Braves, mainly Sasuke and Saizō, who come up with the strategy for Ōsaka: the construction of the Sanada Maru. This is revealed towards the end of the campaign. Yukimura, not wanting to go to his grave lying to his son, reveals to the others that he told his son that he is a fraud, that the tactics used against the Tokugawa in the winter were thought up by Sasuke and Saizō. He also tells them that he is going to charge the main camp to kill Ieyasu. He reveals the plan to them and Sasuke, with tears in his eyes, tells Yukimura that he never needed them, that he had it in him all along.

Interestingly, there is somewhat of a budding relationship between Yukimura and Lady Yodo. I have not found anything that supports this, so my guess is that this is some creative liberties here. Although, the film was released in 2016 along with another called Sanadamaru, which had a video game release to coincide with its release: Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada. In this game, Sanada Yukimura and Lady ChaCha cross paths many times since childhood and they eventually become friends. Perhaps this was a nod to the new Samurai Warriors game, but I cannot say for certain.

Lastly, the film’s ending touches on a few interesting legends. Of course, the first is with the Sanada 10 Braves. Sadly, only five are left by the end, with the other five perishing on the field of battle along with Sanada Yukimura and his son, Daisuke. Instead of focusing on the tales where they all perished or slipped away quietly, the film incorporates both. After Yukimura is killed, the rest of the Sanada Braves escort Lady Yodo and Hideyori to a cellar. After a major plot twist and being tracked down by Tokugawa ninja, the last of the Braves end up killing each other along with Lady Yodo and Hideyori. After the enemy leaves, it turns out it was all for show and that Hideyori was actual portrayed by Jinpachi. The real Hideyori was knocked out for he insisted on seppuku and was concealed in a large trunk with the Tokugawa seal. As the cellar burned, Lady Yodo stayed behind to atone for her sins, and the last of the Sanada Ten Braves slip away as Ōsaka burned. In the credits, its revealed that they travel all over Southeast Asia and finally return to Japan on the island of Kyūshū in 1637. Hideyori changes his name to Amakusa Shirō but the Tokugawa catch up with him once again.

The reason the film mentions this is because there were rumors going around after the Summer Siege of Ōsaka had ended that Toyotomi Hideyori was still alive. This comes from the fact that his body was never found after the siege ended.(19) The film ties this in with another urban legend that Amakusa Shirō was an illegitimate son of Toyotomi Hideyori. If the name sounds familiar, it is because Amakusa Shirō is one of the Japanese Catholics that took part in the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.(20)

The film is definitely a more modern version of this tale. As we learn more about the history of this era, of course, we begin to question things. Having Sanada Yukimura as a man who constantly downplays his strategic abilities and calling himself “extremely common” can be seen as a reflection of these times. Recently, many historians have begun to re-examine many figures from the Sengoku Jidai, like Ishida Mitsunari and Matsunaga Hisahide, two men who we have talked about on this website about this exact topic. It makes us look at the things that we have not thought about before, which has always been the most fun about history for me. The Sanada 10 Braves have been doing this since their introduction into fiction. While they are fictional characters, they have some small grains of truth with some of their stories, which helps create great historical fiction and will get people interested in eras like the Sengoku Jidai for generations to come.

Sources

  1. From two sources: 1)“Sanada Ten Braves”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanada_Ten_Braves, last visited 11/12/2021. 2)Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 173.
  2. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 173
  3. “Sanada Ten Braves”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanada_Ten_Braves, last visited 11/12/2021
  4. “Sanada Ten Braves”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanada_Ten_Braves, last visited 11/12/2021
  5. “Sanada Ten Braves”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanada_Ten_Braves, last visited 11/12/2021
  6. Yoda Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 173
  7. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 175
  8. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 174
  9. From two sources: 1)”Sarutobi Sasuke”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarutobi_Sasuke, last visited 11/12/2021. 2)Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 175
  10. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), pp. 173, 175.
  11. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 175
  12. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 174
  13. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws (2012), p. 174
  14. “Kirigakure Saizō”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirigakure_Saizō, last visited 11/12/2021
  15. “Sarutobi Sasuke”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarutobi_Sasuke, last visited 11/12/2021
  16. To watch Sanada 10 Braves (2016): https://www.amazon.com/SANADA-10-BRAVES-Kankuro-Nakamura/dp/B08CBK24MT (has subtitles)
  17. For the article on Ishida Mitsunari, click here.
  18. “Ukita Hideie”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukita_Hideie, last visited 11/12/2021
  19. “Toyotomi Hideyori”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyotomi_Hideyori, last visited 11/12/2021
  20. “Amakusa Shirō”, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amakusa_Shirō, last visited 11/12/2021