Crying Freeman and the 1980s Home Video Revolution in Japan

Crying Freeman and the 1980s Home Video Revolution in Japan

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Crying Freeman
How an anime released for home video sparked interest in OVAs both in Japan and abroad.

One of the most memorable early scenes of the 1980s home video anime Crying Freeman goes like so.

The setting is Hong Kong, outside the massive super-yacht which serves as the headquarters of China’s most powerful triad: the 108 Dragons. In the ship’s interior, a very important meeting is underway. The powerful crime lords await their most skilled assassin: the one, the only, Crying Freeman.

Each of the crime lords, dressed in traditional Chinese garb, are introduced to Freeman. They physically embrace their new leader in dramatic closeup, all to the tune of vaguely Sino-sounding synths.

Lastly, after this has been going on for a surprisingly long time, a wire-haired old man takes his turn in hugging the assassin. The camera zooms in, and, accompanied by a musical sting, the old man’s eyes flash an electric blue. His mouth opens agape, revealing sharpened steel points where his teeth should be. Rasping, he begins to bite into Freeman’s neck.

Close up on shocked faces in the crowd. Freeman lifts the vampiric septuagenarian bodily, and flipping backward, slams the man’s head into the ground with impressively gory effect. The attacker was a rival assassin in disguise; a strangely-plotted hunt for the mole who let him in gets underway.

Welcome to the ridiculous world of Crying Freeman.

A New Era for Japanese Animation

Watch our full review/retrospective on the hard-boiled but ridiculous Crying Freeman series.

The Crying Freeman OVA anime series is the tale of one Hinomura Yoh, a famous Japanese potter. A convoluted yet short series of events sees Yoh kidnapped by the infamous 108 Dragons, the most powerful Chinese assassination ring in the world. As he is forcefully inducted into this world of assassination, brainwashed into becoming the perfect killing machine, Yoh gains the very imposing moniker “Crying Freeman.” “Crying,” because he cries whenever he kills. Freeman, literalistically, because he wants to be a free man. Joining Freeman is a ragtag group of various assassins, villains, and your episodic Femme Fatales – who seem to exist mostly to hate and then fall helplessly under the sway of Freeman’s pure, dragon-tattooed machismo. (Did I mention this is from the 1980s?)


What makes Freeman interesting – beyond the sheer schlock factor – is that the show is a perfect encapsulation of the era of anime on videotape. This occurred as the culture in Japan was changing, as national wealth and technology allowed a niche medium to blossom into something often technically impressive and narratively hilarious.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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