Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip Part 5: Days Two & Three | Translation


A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
In this post, Part Five, we continue on with Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for Days Two and Three.


Yu Suzuki: China Research Trip Journal

Recap of the Trip So Far


With Virtua Fighter, Yu Suzuki broke new ground for the fighting game genre. Aiming at further enhancements for Virtua Fighter II, Suzuki made a decision to travel to China, the center of martial arts, on a research mission. His travel companion was his longtime friend and someone experienced in reporting on remote regions: writer and cameraman Kazunari Uchida, In high spirits, the pair boarded a flight to the continent and energetically started their research.

Day Two: Gathering Textures in Beijing


We wanted to go to Shaolin Temple as soon as we could for our first encounter with authentic kung fu, but buses and trains still don't run frequently in China and arranging the tickets was taking time. Holding our impatience in check, during the time before our night train departed we decided to make a typical sight-seeing tour of Beijing, taking in the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the religious buildings at Temple of Heaven Park where prayers are held for a bountiful harvest, 

No doubt your ordinary tourist would use the time for taking snapshots of themselves in front of the vast buildings or the views looking down from them, but Yu photographed only details such as close-ups of stone pavements and carvings. Miss Zhang, our guide, watched him with a puzzled expression.

"Actually for Virtua Fighter II, I've been picturing something like the World Martial Arts Tournament grounds that's in the ending of the manga Dragon Ball. Now it's really starting to take shape. On the top of the Circular Mound at Temple of Heaven Park, with its surrounding decorations of dragons and phoenix carvings, is where I'll have a match take place. Around it we can place some of the buildings that line Tienanmen Square. The ground will be paving stones from the Imperial Palace. That's one location done".

Yu Suzuki taking photos at the Circular Mound Altar at the Temple of Heaven during his 1994 visit (left) and a present-day view (right).
Backgrounds in Virtua Fighter II contain a fusion of textures and features from Yu Suzuki's visit to Beijing.
I believe the reason Yu took so many close-up photos is because he wanted to use them a source of textures. He not only took photos, but also did things like kicking the ground and walls, and stroking them to check how they felt to the touch.

"You get a completely different sense of reality when you know how the real objects feel, compared to just seeing them with your eyes".

Such was his enthusiasm, I was half-afraid that by the end he would start licking them.

"Look Yu-san, this is the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the emperors of the Qing Dynasty acceded to the throne. It was also the main filming location for the movie The Last Emperor. Isn't it impressive, such a grand scale. Oh... Yu-san...?"

Even though our guide, Miss Zhang, maintained a professional approach by giving thorough explanations, the object of her guidance was to be found in the shade of a building with no one around, engrossed in taking photos of the walls.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing featured in the movie The Last Emperor, and features on the movie's poster. However it would seem Yu Suzuki was more interested in gathering textures.


Day Three: Luoyang, Xi'an & Dengfeng.


Our night train arrived at Luoyang at last the next morning at 7:25 am, after a journey of 14 hours. This town has been the ancient capital of nine dynasties since being founded in 11 BC.

Continuing on a little further to the west brought us to Xi'an, the start of the Silk Road. The dryness in the air was a reminder of the lose proximity of the desert, with a faint layer of sand covering the street along which cars and bicycles were going to and fro.

As Yu gazed at the town and the laid-back rhythm to which it moved, a marked contrast to the frothing Asian chaos of Beijing, he murmured: "At last it really feels like we've arrived in China, doesn't it. On the third day, we're finally getting closer to our first objective. Isn't China huge..."

This would be why his games have such a feeling of reality: he spends great time and effort to actually go and experience for himself the distances involved, the differences in culture and the unique atmosphere of the genuine articles. Through bodily contact with these genuine objects Yu injects soul into his games.
One town that Yu Suzuki passed through, Luoyang, can be see on an embroidery at Shenhua's house in Shenmue II (left). However in Shenmue III, this was replaced with a picture of Bailu village (right).

Shaolin Temple At Last


Like a dragon writhing through the wilderness, the black and shiny road twisted its way steeply upwards. Unexpectedly, there was a great number of cars heading in the direction of Shaolin Temple. If our car came upon a dawdling vehicle ahead, it would overtake regardless of whether we happened to be on a blind bend or not.

En route, we taught our accompanying guide Ms Zhang some Japanese. "Here's something you can say that will go down well with Japanese people: 'Since you're all so well-behaved, we've been blessed with good weather...'"

In return, she taught us some Chinese. "Suzuki-san, if you find yourself pestered by sellers following you around, just say 'Búyòng, búyòng.''" [rough translation: "I don't need it"]

Looking every part Japanese and with a good-natured air about him, Yu was a prime target wherever we went. At that time, the game Puyo Puyo had become a hit, and so he mastered the sounds in no time.
The name of SEGA's 1992 arcade game Puyo Puyo served as a useful memory aid when declining goods from merchants.
We crossed over several desolate mountains, with only a sparse few trees growing on them. When the mountains finally opened out to a wide plateau, rows of souvenir shops sprang into view, looking just like tourist spots back in Japan.

"Could this be Shaolin Temple?"

The two of us, who had been envisioning a shabby rustic place set deep in the mountains, found ourselves turning to each other.

We had met up along the way with our guide for the district of Dengfeng county in which Shaolin Temple is located, a Mr Zhang - the same name as our earlier guide (Zhang is said to be the most common surname in China). Mr Zhang, with a matter-of-fact expression on his face, responded:

"That's right. You know the movie named after it? That made its popularity take off, and even in China it's one of the leading tourist spots".

This all made it sound like some kind of movie set for an NHK [the Japanese national broadcaster] period drama.
"The Shaolin Temple" was the title of a 1982 movie starring Jet Li.
"We heard that leopards have been seen around Mt. Song.../"

"Hahaha, any leopards have died out long ago. If you want to visit the top of Mt Song, you can take the ropeway. It will get you there in 10 minutes."

The two of us exchanged looks once more.

Once we had passed the rows of souvenir shops, we came to an area with a number of stone towers standing together. They were hexagonal and looked as if Japanese-style pagodas had been stacked on top of one another. It was called the Pagoda Forest: 242 monuments, each one the grave of the Shaolin Temple high priests through the ages. Every one stood at least 4 to 5 meters tall, and in the bases were carved images of martial arts moves or the scenery of Mt. Song; hardly reminiscent of tombstones at all.

Wandering through this forest is somehow calming. Perhaps that's because lying here are those who ended their time in this world peacefully, without regrets.

Yu told me that the scenery had given him a hint for another background location for Virtua Fighter II.

"I've never seen scenery like this before, you see. Usually with backgrounds in games, they're drawn from the imagination, but you'd never think up scenery like this. It just shows what a difference visiting a place in person can make. Scenery that surpasses ordinary imagination, conversely gives it reality. And above all, it's something at the actual Shaolin Temple, so if I were to use this it would definitely have emotional impact".

--- End of translation. To be continued in the next part. ---

As shown in the image below, Yu did indeed go on to make use of the location in Virtua Fighter II, and also included it in the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait series that was released in 1995 for the SEGA Saturn, with an image of Akira meditating in front of one of the monuments.


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