Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

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Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby A » Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:27 pm

Furin kazan "Flying Banners" (Hiroshi Inagaki / Japan / 196

This Samurai epic set in the 16th century of Japan, is about a former Ronin, magnificently played by Toshiro Mifune, who begind to serve at an already high age as an adviser of a strong warlord Takeda, and tries through his influence to unite Japan, which is divided in various territories, and in a state of civil war.
During the ca. 167minutes we see how Takeda's clan wins battle after battle, continously expanding its territory. There is also a kind of "love story" in the film, which is handled in a mature way, as the whole film uses little melodramtics, and tells more through things unsaid, than through dialogue. This love Story is (besides the fantastic camera work) the most interesting aspect in the film, and gives it the much needed depth and tragedy, which otherwise would be almost missing
The camerawork is outstanding, using an interesting palette of colors, and lots of impressive shots of the nature, to tell its story shot in widescreen. The directing and the dialogue are also very good, as is the editing and the acting, and the music is also right, with a pathetic but restrained note that fits the thematic.
The only major problem is the a bit too glorifying portrayal of the warriors, and the reactionary standpoint of the characters, from which the director either doesn't know how, or doesn't want, to distance himself far enough.
If it weren't for this, the film might be compared to the late Akira Kurosawa epics, and I'm sure Kurosawa was influenced by this film in the technical department.
The film is a mixture between chambara and jidai-geki, but has its moments of reflection and ambiguity towards the characters depicted. Luckily the end pulls the film in the right direction.

In the end I rated it "only" **1/2 / ****, so it's recommended, but one has to be careful with certain ideological aspects.
A
 


Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby wpqx » Tue Mar 14, 2006 4:05 am

Joiuchi aka Samurai Rebellion (1967) - Masaki Kobayashi

Sometimes when there's nothing to do, you need to raise a little hell. This may be the theme of Samurai Rebellion better than any other. It is a comment on blind obedience, humanity, the cruelty of tyrants, and a historical explanation of histories wars. Sometimes, like with WWI, a war was started basically because countries had armies, and things were too quiet. Samurai Rebellion starts in a relatively quiet period of Japanese history, where one particular clan has nothing to do. They can't even duel because they're worried that the shame of the loser's family would be too great. So they test their swords on dummies. It is peaceful and quiet and everyone bored as they may be is at least content.

Isaburo (Toshiro Mifune) is regarded as the best swordsman in the clan, along with the gate keeper. He is getting on in years and is soon to retire. His son Yogoro (Go Kato) is not nearly as accomplished, but is a faithful servant to his lord. When the lord's mistress displeases him she is sent out to be married to Yogoro. The family accepts her begrudgingly, but they soon grow to love her. Before she was turned from the castle, Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa) bore the lord a child. It is decided that this child will be the heir to the lord and Ichi is ordered to abandon her new husband and family to return at once, and the family is supposed to actually request her to be returned. Yogoro, Ichi, and Isaburo on the other hand don't accept the plan, and here's where the story gets interesting.

There are numerous times to back down, but Isaboro and Yogoro have their integrity. Isaboro realizes that his life was without passion, purpose, and his marriage was without love. He is alive for the first time when he sees the love that his son has for his wonderful wife. If they won't stand up to their lord, he will for them. Mifune is remarkable in his role here and it is hard to think of another actor who could have had the right persona to pull this off. Odd to think that less than a year later he would be battling Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific, but he is every bit the elder swordsman here. He has a purpose, but of course his cause is a bit of a hopless one. No matter how good a swordsman, your chances aren't that good against an entire clan.

This was Kobayashi's first independent film as a producer, and it would be his last successful one. He was one of the four director's to produce Kurosawa's bomb Dodes ka-den, and that severely crippled his producing capabilities. The film is a direct compliment to Kobayashi's supreme masterpiece Hara-kiri, and the two films seem intertwined perfectly.

Grade A -
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby wpqx » Thu Mar 30, 2006 4:24 pm

Kedamono no ken - Sword of the Beast (1965) - Hideo Gosha

Sometimes you watch a samurai film and think how very easily it could be made into a Western. Sword of the Beast most likely would have wound up a Hollywood Western if it had come out a few years before. As it is, we can just watch it and draw our own comparissons, and wonder how Clint Eastwood, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, or anyone else might have handled the role.

The story is simple like so many Jidaigeki stories are. We begin in the middle of action, a common staple of most Westerns as well. Gennosuke (Mikijro Hara) is on the run and he is hiding in a field. He is found out and the blood starts pouring. He kills his pursuers, steals a horse, and vows to run forever. We see who is after him, and instead of a usual bounty hunting samurai, we see a somewhat timid samurai and his fiance. These are his two main pursuers, they want this man for what he did to the woman's father (who was the leader of his clan). It is vital to the story that it takes place in the mid 19th century. This is a modern samurai tale, much like Peckinpah's Westerns all seemed to take place at the end of the frontier. This way of life is changing rapidly, Gennosuke knows it, but the counsellor whom he kills is stubbornly unaware.

So the chase continues, there are female assassins, prostitutes, and of course a slew of gold prospectors. Now this last hunt for gold is enough to make it ring a familiar bell to nearly any Hollywood Western, and if you look at the time it is set in, the great San Fransisco gold rush was occuring almost simultaneously. Well Gennosuke finds a man who helps him out, but is intent on panning for gold, only he wants a bodyguard. Well if he's going to run for the rest of his life, he might as well get some money. So now we have our second major plot break. The film is pretty equally divided into the time before the mountain, and the time on it. With this great mountain which is illegal to pan on, you know that it is the end of the line, likewise what pursued samurai won't eventually have his pursuers catch up with him?

Here's where the story develops those wonderfully complex relationships between good and evil, brilliantly realized in the Mann-Stewart Westerns. There are no real bad guys amongst the major characters, only groups and ideas are bad. Clans are bad, unquestioning loyalty to them is bad, but people aren't. People do what they think is best, even if others can't agree. Gennosuke is guilty of murder, but he believed it was the only way to get his reforms, which we're led to believe are likely to go through in the wake of his actions. He is a victim however, and the people out to get him have their motives, even if the old bastard probably deserved to die. Even the young couple panning for their clan on the mountain have their reasons. It is one of the most powerful moments in group mentality when the man chooses to protect his (clan's) gold over his wife's life. He rationalizes it, and inhuman as it may sound you can't help but see his point. It is the nature of him being a "beast" that explains the title. Gennosuke becomes a beast, someone who's sole purpose is survival. He kills when he has to and has no more conscience than a wild animal. It is only on the mountain, and with the help of the people he meets that he is able to vindicate himself and truly become human again.

Grade A
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby A » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:50 am

Saw "Samurai Rebellion" recently, and I think it's a masterpiece. The other film by Kobayashi I've seen "Kwaidan", was nowhere as good. A truly humanist film, if I might say so.
Haven't seen hara-Kiri. Would you mind writing a few lines about it wpqx?
A
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby wpqx » Mon Apr 24, 2006 2:12 pm

It's been a while, but it has much in common with Samurai Rebellion. It deals primarily with honor, but again with most of these films it isn't always what it shows, but how it shows it. It has been a couple years since I've seen it, but I was quite blown away by it at the time, and just from the little I can remember would still vote it as Kobayashi's best. The focal point of the film is the honorable notion of suicide, but it takes a much more humanist approach to it, similar to the "overwhelming will to live" displayed in Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain.

I did watch Samurai Spy a few weeks ago, but unfortunately its plot is far too complicated to get much written about it. It comes off much more as a film noir than a samurai picture or western.
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby wpqx » Sun Apr 30, 2006 5:07 pm

Kiru aka Kill! (1968) - Kihachi Okamoto

A weak drifter enters a barren town, burnt to the ground, streets abandoned, and everywhere is a howling wind. He hasn't eaten for five days and has been walking because he hears there might be a job for a ronin. He has one dream, and that's to become a samurai, he's sold his land for swords, but in the meantime he'll be happy with a bite to eat. This is how we see Tabata (Etsushi Takahashi). He runs into another man with a similar motive, except he was looking to join the yakuza's, who up until two months ago were rooted in the village.
They encounter a samurai and each go their own way, but of course they wind up intersecting paths throughout. Tabata is the first person we see and we naturally assume he'll be the focus of the story, but as it progresses and more characters are introduced it becomes Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) who becomes the most important. He is a vagrant, and is quickly dismissed by the samurai who feel too proud and superior to him. However Genta is a former samurai and he quit because he was sick of the way samuari lived their life. This is possibly the first film that really attacks the ideology of a samurai. Sure other films have debated unquestioning obedience and misguided honor, but this is the first film that deliberately says being a samurai isn't honorable, it isn't something you should strive for, and that the myths of these men are undeserving.
It is a myth-debunking film just as Unforgiven worked on the same level for the Western. Whereas that film made killing a much more emotional task than other Westerns, this film focuses more on the samurai as heroes. Here they aren't, they are people who are quick to be betrayed, and frequently for no good reason. If one person stands in the way, send 7 men to kill him, and then kill the 7 so that they can't rebel. When you first hear of the 7 hiding out on the hill you suddenly get visions of a brilliant stand off and a triumph for the gallant warriors in the way of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, however these men on the hill aren't quite as heroic. They are fine as long as there are no women, but when the leader's fiance comes to them, and the men find liqour, their fortune begins to change. The focus isn't even on them. Genta is helping them for strange reasons. He was loyal to his samurai cause once before, and it disgusted him, so by helping these men who don't even ask for his help, he's repaying a debt from a long time ago. It is a buddhist interpretation of karma, and this good deed can help to cover his tracks for his previous weakness.
All Genta did in the past however was do as he was told. He only questioned the ethics of it when it was too late. The samurai here are in horrible shape and have no unity whatsoever. A group of trainee's are sent to the mountain with the promise of becoming samurai if they kill the seven men, but at the same time their boss sends 30 men with guns and bows up there. The trained archers and riflemen don't even care who they shoot, the lives of these farmers/peasants turned ronin are worthless, like a yakuza it isn't worth more than a worm. They wind up killing two of their own men for just being in a line of fire, which is more damage than they do to the men holding up in the mountain.
Along the way Tabata begins to question his own quest, he has figured that perhaps being a samurai isn't all he thought it would be, but he's had the dream for too long to just instantly abandon it. He does some soul searching, and when he finally comes to Genta's aid you have a feeling that he's certainly on the right path, making the ending of the film one somewhat comical as well as appropriate.

Grade B-
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby trevor826 » Mon May 01, 2006 6:00 am

wpqx, you've put me to shame with the number and quality of your reviews on this thread, thanks for your input especially since you've discussed a number of films I knew nothing about.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Japanese Journals - Jidaigeki

Postby wpqx » Mon May 01, 2006 2:01 pm

Thank the Criterion Collection. They put out a four film boxed set of "Rebel Samurai" films, each of which were new to me, and Samurai Rebellion was the only one I had even heard of. I do wish I could have written a more proper review for Samurai Spy though, damn interesting film, but very complicated.
wpqx
 

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