A BLOODY SPEAR AT MT. FUJI (JAPAN / 1955)
The first film directed by renowned Japanese auteur Uchida Tomu (1898-1970) after nearly a decade-long and relatively controversial stay in Manchuria, A Bloody Spear at Mt. Fuji (Chiyari Fuji) is regarded as one of the best efforts of his two-phase career. Unlike most of Uchida's early, prewar work which reportedly concentrated on comedies and keiko-eiga (socially conscious, "leftist" films), it is ostensibly a jidai-geki ("period drama"), though one which proudly bears the traces of his former interests.
Made under the guidance of such figures as Ozu Yasujiro and Shimizu Hiroshi, Uchida's long-time friends and associates, this tonally and thematically ambitious film begins as a variation of a road-movie as we witness a young and inexperienced samurai Kojurô (Kataoka Eijiro) making an important journey to Edo (Tokyo) along with his stoic lance-bearer Gonpachi (Kataoka Chiezô) and his loquacious personal servant Genta (Katô Daisuke). Uchida gradually introduces us to a number of other characters -- an itinerant musician, a blind masseur, a impoverished old man and his young daughter, etc. -- mostly commoners who're also traveling along Tokaido road, the busy thoroughfare of the Edo era.
In a fashion reminiscent of the recent work by Yamada Yôji (The Twilight Samurai ), the film passes through an amalgam of shades and emotions that resolutely relate the plight of the underprivileged and dispossessed. Likewise, it climaxes with a violent, irrational confrontation. Uchida, who briefly served as an assistant to Mizoguchi Kenji early on in his career, shows a similar affinity for overhead crane-shots. The modernistic, jazz-inflected score by Kosugi Taichirô (Uchida's The Master Spearman ), which reminds one of those found in Naruse Mikio's efforts, helps underline the film's progressive attitude. Somewhat paradoxically, however, Uchida ultimately (albeit solemnly) adheres to the traditional codes and values prevalent in applicable films of the genre.