“It seems that there were three generations of smiths signing their names Muramasa. As Muramasa’s work was considered unlucky for the Tokugawa family, the “mura” was sometimes obliterated and the character “mune” inscribed beneath the remaining character, thus transforming the remaining character into the far more palatable Masamune. It might have been this process which gave rise to the popular belief that Muramasa was a pupil of Masamune of Soshu, yet his earliest-known work is dated 1501, almost two centuries after Masamune’s time.” – Harris and Ogasawara. Swords of the Samurai. London: British Museum Publications, 1990.
It’s no secret that I love the story of Muramasa, the legendary, sorcerous swordsmith whose blades were said to carry a curse against the family of the Shogun. When the time came for me to form a company, I even named it Muramasa Industries in his honour. I spent several years toying with the idea of writing a book on the subject of the Curse of the Muramasa. Muramasa was a powerful figure in Japanese urban myth of the 18th century – a smith whose blades were worth a fortune, but which bore a sentient, irrepressible will to drive their owners into conflict with their Shogun.
And then one day, the call came from Big Finish, asking me to write a Highlander talking book for their new series, to be recorded by Adrian Paul. The producers thought it would be cool to have something about Japan. They even suggested a title, Secret of the Sword…
I decided to combine the tales of Muramasa with the narrative structure of Antiques Roadshow. I love the way that the appraisal of an antique can become several stories at once: the owner, revealing where it came from, the valuer, revealing how he knows what it really is, and the artefact itself, giving up its secrets.
I wanted to send Duncan MacLeod to Japan, but the timelines in the TV series are tight and Japan was effectively closed to the West until the 1850s. So I looked at the season three opener, “The Samurai” by Naomi Janzen, in which Duncan faced down an Immortal adversary, the business leader Michael Kent, while remembering his trip to Japan in the 1700s. It left me with questions that a new story could answer – how did Duncan get out of 18th century Japan after those events? And how could he bring himself to throw away Michael Kent’s sword, when Kent had already boasted that it was a Muramasa?
If you know the Highlander TV episode “The Samurai”, this episode is a sequel. If you don’t, it stands alone, as a view of Japan that is far removed from cherry blossoms and the tea ceremony – a brutal police state where Christians and foreigners were ruthlessly persecuted.
Everything Duncan says in this story is “true”, in the sense that it repeats popular myths from Japan’s Edo period about the Curse of the Muramasa. Muramasa swords really exist, and Duncan’s estimate of their value is, if anything, conservative. The antique market works this way; insurance works this way… I can neither confirm nor deny how things work for Immortals.