Samurai Rebellion (1967), or Fealty And Bravery

29 11 2009

Toshiro Mifune stars in another samurai movie I love! What are the odds? He’s batting 1000!
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Set, of course, in the Edo period, we follow Isaburo Sasahara, a vassal for a great and powerful clan, the Aisu. He is a powerful man with nary an equal to be found in all the land. One day, however, forces beyond his control pressure him into a corner. His daimyo orders Isaburo’s elder son Yogoro to marry one of his ex-concubines, Ichi. The two fall in love, wed, and have a child together named Tomi. Remarkably, an arranged marriage that works out! But that doesn’t really interest the daimyo, whose eldest heir unexpectedly passes, and orders her back to the palace to take care of the son and heir that they had together before Togoro. The family steadfastly refuses, considering Ichi one of their own now. The daimyo is not pleased, and demands Isaburo and Togoro commit seppuku for not following his orders. Isaburo has another idea; he tells him that he’ll gladly do it as soon as the heads of the daimyo and his top advisors arrive at his home. With the battle lines drawn, it seems that an all-out battle between the samurai clan and Isaburo is inevitable. Can a lone swordsman, even a great one, stand up against a legion of samurai by himself in the name of honor and family?

Masaki Kobayashi directs this tale of familial bonds, fealty, and wide-eyed samurais. It’s an entertaining look into well-worn territory that definitely has its place in the myriad of Edo period dramas that exist. The thing I like about Kobayashi’s endeavor is that his eye is drawn like wild fire to the frames that are the most tense, so whenever something goes down between Isaburo and his foolish daimyo, the camera leaps as ferociously as a jungle cat to get to it. It’s an effect that predominantly started in Italy, but spread quickly to the Eastern world, and it became the staple of martial arts and Edo period pieces for the next decade to bust into a confrontation like a rabid district attorney. It’s a fun style that heightens the urgency of the situation by leaps and bounds. I certainly felt the dire nature of Isaburo’s plight when the music sting erupted and the camera snapped forward.

The legendary Toshiro Mifune again treats us to a performance that is nuanced and moving as Isaburo, the swordsman without equal. Ever notice that he NEVER has an equal in these Edo period pieces? What if all the Mifune characters met each other one day from all the various movies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s? Who would win? Or would Japan just explode from all the mighty blows put forth? Either way, even though he acts with an honor that is deeply connected to his family, you can still tell that it shames him to have to raise arms against his daimyo. Just one of the many reasons why Toshiro Mifune is one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. The other real standout here for me is actually Yoko Tsukasa, who plays the wife, Ichi. Her story is tragic and painful, and it all comes out in Tsukasa’s beautiful, poignant eyes. She looks to be a woman truly in love when she’s with Togoro, played by a young and charismatic Takeshi Kato, and I felt the closest to her and her plight. She is really in the middle of these two great powers, and all she wants to do is love her man and her children, a request that is apparently too great to ask as she is forced into this lose-lose situation.

Samurai Rebellion is a movie for the samurai movie guy or gal. If you’ve seen the mandatory classics, and are looking for something to put you deeper in the genre, you can’t go wrong with this one. It has the same fell, with more subtleties and fresher faces than the stand-bys. It’s probably not something most people could rush into without having a feel for the Edo period dramas or never having seen one before, because its dynamic is such that it doesn’t cater to newbie interlopers, but if you like Japanese cinema from the 60s and are looking for some fresh material, this is something that you can’t afford to miss. I give Samurai Rebellion 8 1/2 despotic daimyos out of 10. A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I take care of a request from Goregirl with TOKYO! Until then!