The films that influenced ‘The Wolverine’

Posted at 2:19 PM, Jul 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-26 16:19:30-04

By Jennifer Vineyard

Special to CNN

(CNN) — When Hugh Jackman first called his director for “The Wolverine,” James Mangold told him that he had had an inspiration after reading the script. Mangold wanted to to make the set-in-Japan film similar to “The Outlaw Josey Wales” by making the mutant a Josey Wales with healing powers. Jackman hadn’t seen the classic Clint Eastwood film, so Mangold sent him a copy.

“I felt like tonally, it would give him a clue of what I was talking about,” the director said.

The director started thinking about the deep affinity between gun-slinging Westerns and swordfighting samurai films. Mangold thought that drawing upon both of them would help “The Wolverine” stand apart from the rest of the X-Men series.

This installment takes place after “X-Men: The Last Stand,” as Wolverine retreats from killing the love of his life, Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix, and heads to Japan. It is based on the comic by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and Mangold thought of it as Hugh Jackman in a Western in Japan, without the horse. To make sense of this movie mashup, the director tweeted images from the top ten inspirations for “The Wolverine,” daring fans to identify them.

Astute fans of Mangold’s body of work (which includes “Cop Land,” “Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma”) might have spotted the 1959 Yasujiro Ozu film “Floating Weeds,” since the director has cited it as one of the best films of all time as well as a major influence on his first film, “Heavy.”

“Ozu is the most underappreciated Japanese director, in my mind,” Mangold said. “For me, the whole trip that Logan takes south to the Nagasaki area, it’s almost the reverse train trip that the older couple take in ‘Tokyo Story.’ ”

“But it’s also about that sense of the beauty and simplicity of rural Japanese life,” he added. “When I started scouting Japan, the world of the Ozu films still exists. You ride south; you find yourself in a simple fishing village, and it looks unchanged since the postwar period.”

Depicting the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki in “The Wolverine,” and the community’s recovery, was a useful allegory for Jackman’s character: “Out of all the pain and the catastrophe and loss that he had suffered in his life, he’s in a place that keeps going,” Mangold said. “They keep living, and they keep loving, despite the atrocities that have happened.”

Also on the list of Mangold’s top films of all time is 1947’s Himalayas-set “Black Narcissus,” about a group of nuns establishing a convent. It was an influence on one of his most acclaimed films, “Girl, Interrupted.”

“In regards to ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ it’s a conscribed universe with these women all trapped in one place,” Mangold said. “But in ‘The Wolverine,’ it’s the tone, which is both realistic and dreamy, the sense of travel to the exotic land and the buried sensuality in this new place.”

Mangold planted one shot as a direct homage to “Black Narcissus” in “The Wolverine”: when a woman runs out of a building and seems on the verge of throwing herself over a cliff into the sea.

“That’s from the final sequence of ‘Black Narcissus,’ ” Mangold said, “from when the nun who goes mad is chasing Deborah Kerr around and they show downward with the cliffs.”

On the Western front, Mangold cites two classics: 1953’s “Shane” and Eastwood’s 1976 film “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

” ‘Shane’ is because of the dark outlaw who is brought into town, comes into a new village and changes everyone’s lives but can never stay,” Mangold said. “He’s a soldier of fortune, a vagabond. Logan is like that Western hero, a man who can never stop moving.”

In “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” Eastwood’s character loses his wife and children in the very beginning, and it sets him off on a journey built on his rage and loss — which echoes not just in Logan’s loss of Jean Grey but the perceived loss of his mentor, Dr. Charles Xavier, seemingly destroyed by the Dark Phoenix.

“It’s also the journey,” Mangold said, “and how the enemy is not clear. It’s kind of a labyrinth. And it’s also about a wounded soldier trying to get home again. In the end of ‘Josey Wales,’ it’s not like he’s victorious against any enemy. He just literally finds a new place to live and love again and the courage to do it.”

Then, of course, there are the samurai films such as the “The Samurai Trilogy”: 1954’s “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto,” 1955’s “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple” and 1956’s “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.”

“The imagery is incredibly fantastical,” Mangold said. “It’s not the kind of desolation you’d find in the Kurosawa films. They’re extremely lyrical and colorful, with beautiful sets, beautiful design, beautiful use of color.”

Two films noir are also on Mangold’s list: William Friedkin’s 1971 thriller “The French Connection” and Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir “Chinatown.” Mangold said he values all of the films even beyond the inspiration they provided for his latest project.

“All of these movies are huge to me anyway,” he said. “And they spoke to me as I was working on the script and preparing for this shoot. But they’ve been touchstones to me all my life.”

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