Although a favorite of cosplayers, sword collectors, and diehard Tarantino acolytes, the Hattori Hanzo sword begs further exploration. Is it an authentic sword or just a Hollywood prop? How does it compare to the legendary Japanese katana, and is Hattori Hanzo a real person?
Let’s find out.
The Hattori Hanzo Sword
The Hattori Hanzo sword is not a “real” Japanese sword, although it looks like the most famous of Japanese sword types – the Katana. So, before we compare these two bladed weapons, let us look at the Hattori Hanzo sword characteristics.
The Kill Bill series depicts the Hattori Hanzo sword as a hand-forged weapon crafted by a legendary swordsmith, Hattori Hanzo. In the film, Hattori has turned his back on creating tools that kill, opting for a more laid-back life as an Okinawan sushi chef and store owner.
Nobody knows if Hattori used Tamahagane steel in forging The Bride’s Sword. Katana enthusiasts who saw the film can only surmise Hattori used a stronger steel because this sword beat other Hattori-forged swords for the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Authentic katana features Tamahagane steel. Although it’s not the strongest, Tamahagane IS katana steel. Modern, premium-quality, high-carbon-steel is better, prompting moviegoers to believe the Hattori sword is non-Tamahagane.
The Bride’s Sword has the katana’s characteristic 1.5-centimeter Sori (curvature) drawn from an imaginary line spanning the single-edged sword’s back or spine.
Its blade (Nagasa) also has the iconic temper line or Hamon, highlighting the boundaries between the sharp leading edge and the durable spine. The mirror-like finish is exceptional, allowing Beatrix Kiddo to see opponents sneaking up from behind.
Like the katana of feudal Japan, The Bride’s Sword spanned 23.6 inches or a little over 60 centimeters from the tip (Kissaki) to the guard (Tsuba). It is the perfect length for effortless slashing, dismembering, and decapitating enemies, as Kiddo skillfully shows in the film.
Tsuka, Tsuba, and Saya
The Hattori Hanzo Sword has a Tsuka (hilt) like the legendary Japanese katana. However, Hollywood designers opted for a black, gold, and white color scheme.
For example, a gold maple leaf adorned the Kashira and Fushi, while the Tsuka featured black wrapping with complementary white ray skin. A Menuki also added a visual element to the black Tsuka covering.
The Tsuba (guard) features the katana’s disc-shaped element, while a shiny black Saya (sheath) has lioness-and-leaf decorative carvings.
The Hattori Hanzo sword. Photo by Critics Rant.
Japanese Katana vs. Hattori Hanzo Sword
People who are clueless about the Japanese katana often see the Hattori Hanzo Sword as an authentic piece. However, we must point out the most significant differences between a “true” Japanese katana and the Hattori sword.
Although the film depicts Hattori hand-forging the sword, reproduction swords (post-Kill Bill) might take a different route. Most come from sword-making machines.
On the other hand, authentic Katana swords can only come from a licensed Katana-kaji. It is worth noting that Katana is a Japanese national treasure, and the government wants to preserve its rich heritage by certifying and licensing only qualified Katana swordsmiths who meet strict requirements.
Another point of contention between these two swords is the steel used in their construction. The Japanese government only recognizes Tamahagane steel as the ingredient for making “true” Japanese katana.
Meanwhile, reproduction Hattori Hanzo swords often have stainless steel blades, giving the weapon its characteristic shine. Some might use other metals.
Although both the katana and Hattori sword feature a beautiful Hamon (temper line), they vary in Hamon creation.
Reproduction Hattori swords feature acid-etched blades. It requires manufacturers to chemically clean the steel blade, design a Hamon-like pattern on photosensitive dry film laminates, and transfer the design to the sword’s blade using artificial UV exposure. They spray etching acid on the blade to dissolve exposed metal parts, imprinting the Hamon on the Hattori Hanzo sword.
On the other hand, an authentic Katana must undergo clay tempering. Before heating and quenching the sword, expert Katana-kajis cover the Nagasa with a special clay. Depending on the swordsmith’s skills and design inclinations, the Hamon can have varying shapes and patterns.
Clay tempering has an extra benefit to the katana. It ensures the sword’s exceptional flexibility (razor-sharp edge) and durability (a tough spine), culminating in remarkable strength. Unsurprisingly, the katana is a Samurai’s favorite weapon.
Meanwhile, Hattori Hanzo swords are only as strong as the steel used in their manufacture (although one can argue Kiddo showed how effortless it is to cut down an enemy with a single stroke).
Authentic katanas are battle-ready and –tested tools. The Hattori sword is only a prop for Hollywood actors and cosplayers.
The “Real” Hattori Hanzo
Sonny Chiba’s performance as Hattori Hanzo in the film was phenomenal. However, many filmgoers ask, “Does this mean it’s a fictional character like any other silver screen persona?”
Not. While the Hattori Hanzo sword is as fictional as the story, Japanese history recalls a legendary person bearing the same name. However, the real-life Hattori Hanzo was not a swordsmith. He was a lethal ninja and the leader of a 200-strong Iga Ninja group.
Contrary to how Hollywood portrays ninjas as assassins, Hattori and his group were instrumental in helping Tokugawa Ieyasu ascend to the position of Shogun of a united Japan during the Sengoku Era.
Although Hattori was not a swordsmith, his sword-fighting techniques and combat tactics were legendary. Daimyos of the time called him Oni no Hanzo (Demon Hanzo) for his fearless tactics.
One legend cites Hattori refusing to be Tokugawa Nobuyasu’s (Tokugawa Ieyasu’s son) Kaishakunin when the latter ordered the former to commit Seppuku on charges of conspiracy and treason against Oda Nobunaga. Hattori’s loyalty to the Tokugawa clan was on full display, further endearing him to Ieyasu, who famously quipped that “even demons shed tears.”
The Bottom Line
The Hattori Hanzo sword is a spectacular bladed weapon on the silver screen and a fine collector’s item for cosplayers and sword enthusiasts. However, that’s all there is to this sword. It’s a fantasy weapon best reserved for displays and acts. But if you’re talking about the sword the 16th-century ninja leader Hattori Hanzo wielded in securing the Tokugawa Shogunate, that’s a different story.