“Jesus Christ, Dirty Harry & Billy the Kid walk into a bar…”

Naoto Yamakawa’s cult classic The New Morning of Billy the Kid “conjures together a motley crew of Eastern and Western archetypes”. For our online screening, we made a handy primer…

To call Naoto Yamakawa’s The New Morning of Billy The Kid an unconventional Western would be to severely downplay the stramash of archetypes Yamakawa knowingly deploys in his dreamlike film. From the title, combining references to Bob Dylan’s New Morning (1970) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973) which Dylan scored and starred in, the film pulls together multiple threads of cultural references from all directions. We’ve assembed this (incomplete!) primer to aid your viewing of our online programme, which runs 3rd-5th December 2021. Images courtesy of Naoto Yamakawa.

Billy the Kid
aka Henry McCarty, William H Bonney (1859-1881) | An orphan at 15, dead at 21, Billy the Kid found fame as a murderous outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West. A pop culture figure for over 100 years, he’s appeared in numerous books, comics, films, stage shows, songs and video games. Played by Hiroshi Mikami.

Black and white photography: Two men, a sailor and a police detective, sit at a table on a balcony. The sailor looks down through binoculars, the detective smokes a cigarette.
Harry Callahan (Yoshio Harada), right, in The New Morning of Billy the Kid

Harry Callahan (Created 1971) | Debuting in Don Siegel’s neo-noir Dirty Harry, Inspector Harold Francis Callahan is a fictional character and protagonist of a five-film series concluding with 1988’s The Dead Pool. Played by Yoshio Harada.

Marx-Engels (Karl Marx, 1818-1883; Friedrich Engels, 1820-1895) | German philosophers and co-authors of The Communist Manifesto. Marx’ tomb bears the inscription, “Workers of all lands unite”. The latter’s motto was reportedly, “Take it easy.” Played by Rokkô Toura.

Monument Valley | Monument Valley, located on the Navajo Nation within Arizona and Utah, has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930s, most famously the ten films John Ford made with John Wayne, including Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956).

Genichiro Takahashi (1951-) | Novelist and co-writer of The New Morning of Billy the Kid. The film draws upon his written works Sayonara, Gangsters (1982), Over the Rainbow (1984) and John Lennon vs The Martians (1985), among others. His oeuvre draws inspiration equally from low- and high-brow culture. Played by Genichiro Takahashi.

Black and white photography: Three men stand closely together in a bar: a sailor, a bandit and a soldier.
Harimau (Junichi Hirata), centre, in The New Morning of Billy the Kid

Harimau aka Tani Yutaka (1911-1942) | Yutaka was a bandit known as Harimau (“Tiger” in Malay), attacking Chinese gangs and British officers and giving away what he looted to the poor, making him a local hero in Malaya, now Malaysia. He was also a secret agent for the Imperial Japanese Army, sabotaging the British war effort in the run up to World War II. Played by ​​Junichi Hirata.

Jesus Christ (c 4 BC-30/33) | Son of God. Played by Akifumi Yamaguchi.

Jishu Eiga | Japanese phrase to describe DIY or self-made films, usually with no budget, funded and produced outside of the commercial industry. Prominent directors Sôgo Ishii, Naomi Kawase, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Shinya Tsukamoto cut their teeth with jishu eiga films. 

Sasaki Kojirō (1575-1612) | Prominent Japanese swordsman and long-time rival of Miyamoto Musashi, who defeated him in a legendary duel. Played by Makoto Ayukawa.

Mitsuharu Kaneko (1895-1975) | Japanese poet known as an anti-establishment figure, who during the Second World War deliberately made his son ill so he would not be drafted.

Black and white photography: A swordsman smiles against a cloudy sky
Miyamoto Musashi (Takashi Naito) in The New Morning of Billy the Kid

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) | Japanese swordsman, philosopher, strategist, writer and rōnin. Miyamoto became renowned through stories of his unique double-bladed swordsmanship and undefeated record in his 61 duels. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) drew inspiration from Miyamoto for Seiji Miyaguchi’s character Kyūzō. Played by Takashi Naito.

New Morning (1970) | The 11th studio album by Bob Dylan, of which the original Rolling Stone reviewer said, “I’ve never heard Dylan sounding so outrageously happy before.”

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) | Revisionist Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, starring (in a supporting role as “Alias”) and scored by Bob Dylan. Billy the Kid was played by Kris Kristofferson, who said of his director, “One of Sam Peckinpah’s regular stunt men put it very well. He said, ‘Sam likes to be surrounded by chaos.'”

Composite image of magazine cuttings: a Photograph of a director holding a script in front of an actor dressed as a cowboy; an excerpt from an article*; a credit: "TONY RAYNS"

*"Beyond its inevitable ration of new British TV-financed features, the festival offered three non-British world premieres, and it seemed characteristic of Edinburgh that no great drums were beaten for any of them. Yamakawa Naoto's The New Morning of Billy the Kid, from Japan, is a brilliantly sustained comedy that conjures together a motley crew of Eastern and Western archetypes and has them shoot it out in the ultimate saloon gunfight. Almost entirely studio-shot, it uses the resources of the sound-stage with a mastery to compare with the heyday of the 1930s, but to glitteringly modernist ends."
The New Morning of Billy the Kid featured in Tony Rayns’ coverage of Edinburgh festival for Sight and Sound (London, Vol 55, Iss. 4, Fall 1986, p222)

Tony Rayns (1948-) | A writer, curator, programer and tireless champion of film, one of Mr Rayns’ key specialisations is Asian cinema. Rayns was an early champion of Yamakawa’s films and one of the only writers to celebrate his work from the outset. Rayns was also involved in the creation of the film’s original English subtitles (since lost), in collaboration with Director Yamakawa, and now has very graciously worked on our 2021 subtitles.

Sgt Sanders (Created 1962) | Sgt “Chip” Saunders, played by Vic Morrow, was the co-lead character in Combat!, a US TV show (1962-1967). The show depicted the lives of a US platoon fighting its way across Europe during World War II. Played by Zenpaku Kato.

Popeye & Olive Oyl (Created 1929; 1919) | Characters of Thimble Theatre, later Popeye, comic strips. Olive Oyl was a main character for 10 years before Popeye’s 1929 appearance, sequentially becoming his girlfriend. Both are able to gain superhuman strength from eating spinach. Played by Katsuhiko Hibino and Kyoko Endoh.

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) | Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union as General Secretary of the governing Communist Party and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. His 18-year term as general secretary was second only to Joseph Stalin’s in duration. Played by Katsumi Asaba.

104 (1953-2015) | Japanese telephone directory enquiries number. Played by Akio Ishii.

177 | Japanese telephone weather service, dial to hear the weather forecast for the upcoming three days. Played by Hozumi Goda

Black and white photograph: A young woman sits in a chair, looking off to the right-hand side.
Charlotte Rampling (Kimie Shingyoji) in The New Morning of Billy the Kid

Charlotte Rampling (1963-) | English actress and model, known for her work in European arthouse films in English, French, and Italian. Played by Kimie Shingyoji

Bruce Springsteen (1949-) | American singer, songwriter, and musician with over twenty studio albums. Played by Masayuki Shionoya

Tatum O’Neal (1963-) | American actress who is the youngest person to ever win a competitive Academy Award, winning at age 10 for her performance as Addie Loggins in Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973) opposite her father, Ryan O’Neal. Played by Aura Lani

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (Published 1969) | A science fiction infused anti-war novel, articulating Vonnegut’s experiences as an American serviceman in World War II through protagonist Billy Pilgrim. Namesake of Master’s bar. 

Naoto Yamakawa (1957-) | Film director and professor at the Department of Imaging Art, Tokyo Polytechnic University. Yamakawa began to create his own films after becoming a member of the Cinema Research Society while studying at Waseda University. 

Zelda (Active 1979–1996) | One of Japan’s first all-girl bands, playing new wave, punk, pop, post-punk, and later, reggae. Played by band members Sachiho Kojima , Sayoko Takahashi, Tomie Ishihara and Ako Ozawa


The New Morning of Billy the Kid is available to watch worldwide from 3rd December to 5th December 2021 only, via Matchbox Cine’s online platform.

The New Morning of Billy the Kid is presented by Matchbox Cine as part of BFI’s Japan 2021: Over 100 years of Japanese Cinema, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. bfijapan.co.uk

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