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Posts Tagged ‘Samurai’

Samurai Rebellion dvd

In 1725, aging henpecked samurai Isaburo Sasahara is living a miserable life in an arranged loveless marriage to his wife Suga. An order comes from Lord Matsudaira basically forcing Isaburo’s son Yogoro to marry his mistress Ichi as she slapped the Lord in the face and ripped his clothes. Although Isaburo and his family are against this, Yogoro agrees for the good of the family. Isaburo expects Ichi to be a bit of a brat but instead finds her to be a quiet and humble woman who becomes a good obedient wife to Yogoro. They fall in love and produce a daughter Tomo. Just as things seem to be settling down, news comes on the grapevine that Lord Matsudaira’s young son has died and he wants Ichi to return to his castle so that he can produce an heir with her. This does not go down well with Yogoro and Isaburo. Although Ichi also refuses to go back to Lord Matsudaira she is tricked and kidnapped. Isaburo and his son decide to stand up to their Lord who wants both of them to commit harakiri for not following his orders. They refuse and a confrontation is inevitable so Lord Matsudaira sends out assassins to wipe them out. Will Isaburo’s family survive the onslaught of people sent out to kill them?

Samurai Rebellion is probably not that well known to Western viewers but it certainly deserves to be. It’s a brilliant movie which is filled with well-developed characters, is beautifully shot and superbly directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It has a great storyline about a patriarch who is forced to choose between following orders and the social injustice placed upon his close family by Lord Matsudaira. It highlights the disgraceful treatment placed upon women during that time period in that it doesn’t matter about Ichi’s feelings in the whole situation just as long as Lord Matsudaira is happy that’s all that matters. This is not your typical straight forward samurai movie with a ton of action involved (although there is plenty near the end), there’s a lot more emotion in this story revolving around love, duty and honour. The plot and the tension builds up slowly and it’s only during the final third that violence is introduced to the plot and it gets rather exciting for the viewer culminating in a rather tragic but satisfying conclusion. Even with the rather downbeat ending, Kobayashi still gives up hope in the very final scene. Once you start watching this movie you’ll find it hard not to get yourself immersed in the wonderful plot.

samurai-rebellion-screenshot

The cast are superb in their roles and Toshiro Mifune is on top of his game here as Isaburo and this movie shows that he could give an excellent performance even whilst not under the direction of Akira Kurosawa. He’s not as intense as he normally is and rather reserved for a change until the last 30 mins of the movie when all hell breaks loose and there’s some fantastic swordfighting action as Isaburo takes on all comers when he tries to escape to Edo with his tiny granddaughter in tow and the net is closing in on him by Matsurdaira’s assassins. There’s a touching scene in which he kisses little Tomo on her forehead before hiding her carefully and taking his final stand against the gunmen hidden in long grass which is choreographed extremely well. Yoko Tsukasa is perhaps the next to stand out in the cast and the viewer will feel a lot of sympathy towards her character of Ichi. She’s a graceful, intelligent and beautiful person. Ichi is such a likeable character who is tossed around like a toy between people.

This movie is as close to perfection as you can get with Toshiro Mifune giving one of his best ever performance. Samurai Rebellion is quite underrated but I would urge any Asian movie fan not to pass it up. It comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Castle Under Fiery Skies

The year is 1575 in feudal Japan. Lord Oda Nobunaga’s forces defeat Takeda Katsuyori, when Nagashino Castle was besieged during the Battle of Nagashino. The next year Lord Nobunaga decides to build a lavish new castle symbolizing his unification of various factions. The castle named Azuchi Castle will be built near water and high enough to be seen from the capital city of Kyoto. A blue print contest is decided between 3 builders and master carpenter Okabe Mataemon is one of those tasked with coming up with a design. Although his design makes Lord Nobunaga angry as he specifically asked for a large atrium within the castle, Mataemon highlights a flaw in the other 2 builders’ designs should it catch fire. Satisfied at the explanation, Mataemon is assigned the task of building the castle. He has 3 years to build it. Failure will end in Mataemon’s beheading. Will he be able to finish the castle on time?

If the title of this movie makes you think this is going to be story about a castle under siege and there’s going to be major battle scenes involving samurai warriors then you’re going to be sorely disappointed as it’s not that type of movie. This is a story about a construction of an impressive castle and the lengths the man who designed it will go to make sure it ends up being a perfect building for his Lord. Moraemon is such a dedicated task master he even goes to enemy territory to seek out a large certain tree (a hinoki cypress) as a base pillar for the castle keep. Although the enemy Lord tells one of his lumberjacks to help him out with finding a tree, he really wants him to send Moraemon home empty handed. Moraemon finds the perfect tree he requires and although initially turned down, the kindness that Moraemon has showed to the lumberjack is enough for him to strike a deal for the tree although going against his Lord’s orders will surely end with his beheading. Although the main plot deals with the construction of the castle we see some minor squabbles between the workers, Moraemon’s annoyance at seeing some of his workers being dragged off to war by Lord Nobunaga, a romance between a young carpenter and Moraemon’s daughter and finally Moraemon’s wife suffering from an illness which she hides from him. I suppose those aspects of the movie make it seem unoriginal and predictable. There’s a rather strange sequence which sees a martial arts fight break out with flying ninjas who have come to assassinate Lord Nobunaga. The scene comes from nowhere and it looks strangely out of place in the movie. The climax which sees the castle threatening to collapse during a wild storm due to the base pillar sinking into the ground sees all the workers and their spouses coming together to lift part of the castle using ropes so that Moraemon can cut 12 cms off the pillar is quite inspiring and typically Japanese. In the West we’ve been instilled with the ‘look after number one’ attitude but in Japan it’s not the individual’s needs that matters but that of the group. Seeing the bloodied hands of the people as they strive to help Moraemon in his task is a testament to the spirit of the workers that work under him. They want to give it their all to him as he’s looked after them. Toshiyuki Nishida is brilliant as Moraemon. Here we have a character who you will root for from the start and despite the trials and tribulations he encounters during the construction when you see the completed castle at the end it is both breathtaking and beautiful.

Castle Under Fiery Skies screenshot

Some viewers will think this movie is rather dull and uninteresting but I was fascinated by it. Having been to Nagoya Castle recently and seen a monumental task to restore one of the buildings there to it’s original glory which is taking 12 years to complete as there’s a shortage of craftsmen who are used to working with old tools, I admired the dedication of the small team of 15 men on the project. Using hinoki wood just like in this movie for the building, the project is supposed to be completed by 2018. It’s a painfully slow process and the workers want to make sure it is perfect when it is complete. I will definitely be going back to see the finished article in 6 years time because I’m sure it’ll be worth seeing.

At 2 hrs and 20 mins this movie is quite a long slog to watch it all but never once was I bored by any of it. The movie does have a rather slow pace to it and I’m sure even if 40 mins had been cut it would not have hindered the story at all.

Overall, Castle Under Fiery Skies is an engaging movie from start to finish and with the great acting of Nishida Toshiyuki, it’s a great story about a community of workers building one of Japan’s greatest castles. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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In this unofficial sequel to Yojimbo, a lone crafty samurai helps a young man and his fellow clansmen save his uncle, who has been framed and imprisoned by a corrupt superintendent.

This movie is one of Kurosawa’s lighter efforts – being played mostly for laughs. Even though Toshiro Mifune plays the same character as he did in Yojimbo the mood could not be any different. There’s plenty of gags which will make you smile – Kurosawa is basically taking apart the samurai genre with tongue firmly in cheek and a running joke sees a prisoner kept inside a cupboard who pops out every so often to give his opinion. Even though this is a comedy don’t think for a second there’s no action involved in this movie as there is with Mifune’s nameless character showing us what he’s made of by taking on 7 or more people in a swordfight but the best is saved for last with a very bloody ending that nobody sees coming. I think I’ve said in my other reviews what I think of Toshiro Mifune and I certainly won’t repeat them again but the man is pure class when it comes to acting. Another awesome performance from him in this movie – as his character runs rings around everybody such as the young men in the story. Mifune’s samurai can clearly see they are incompetent fools and feels compelled to help them out to seek justice.

All in all, a very enjoyable and well-crafted movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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William Shakespeare’s Macbeth tale is transferred into the feudal era of Japan as brave and loyal samurai warrior Washizu encounters a ghostly female spirit deep inside a spooky forest who foretells his future by telling him that he is destined to become ruler of a great fortress. Egged on by his wife, Washizu kills the current ruler of the fortress so that his prophecy can come true. However, his guilt soon starts to get the better of him and other people get suspicious of how the previous ruler was murdered. Soon a great army headed by his former friend starts to advance on his great fortress and Washizu once more seeks another prophecy by the female spirit who says that when the trees of the forest rise up against him then his reign will come to an end. He mocks this prophecy as trees cannot move but tragedy is about to befall Washizu.

Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth is nothing short of sensational and this might be the best movie of any of Shakespeare’s works. It’s THAT good. The visuals employed by him is brilliant such as the use of swirling fog, black volcanic sand on bleak landscapes and huge fortresses. Toshiro Mifune who is definitely my favorite Japanese actor of all time gives us yet another awesome performance as the guilt stricken Washizu but somehow he is also given a good run for his money in acting by Isuzu Yamada who plays his power hungry wife Asaji. There are many highlights when you watch this movie such as the encounter with the spirit in the forest for example but for me the climax tops it all when Washizu’s treachery is discovered by his men and they start to shoot a load of arrows on him in his fortress.

Even though a lot of people will no doubt point you towards The Seven Samurai as a good first movie if you want to start watching Akira Kurosawa’s back catalogue, I would nevertheless tell you to watch this one instead. It’s atmospheric, gripping and just fantastic. I can’t praise this movie enough. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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The explosive final entry in the series has Ogami Ittō confronted by a secretive branch of the Yagyū clan that practices black magic, including the ability to burrow through the earth. He encounters Kaori, a female expert with knives. And there’s Hyouei, an illegitimate son of Yagyū Retsudo who kills anyone Ittō and Daigoro come into contact with. Both Ogami and Daigoro fight for their lives as they’re attacked from all directions. Can they survive the final encounter with the Yagyū clan?

The Lone Wolf And Cub series has been excellent to watch – so entertaining and this one, the final entry is no different. The fantastic battle at the climax sees Ogami taking on Retsudo and his ninja army on skis. Actually I was sad that there isn’t another entry – I would have liked to see this series continue.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Ogami is tested by five messengers, each who try to kill him. After defeating all the messengers, Ogami learns he must kill a young girl who was raised as a boy and is intended to be the heir of a local lord, while the real heir, a little boy, is kept locked away. In addition to murdering the senile old lord, his concubine and the girl, Ogami must stop a document revealing the deception from reaching the hands of his mortal enemy, Yagyū Retsudō. Meanwhile, Daigoro is again separated from his father and proves his courage and sense of honor as he refuses to admit the guilt of a woman pickpocket he became mixed up with.

Just as good as the other entries in the series so far. The swordplay in this one is amazing and relentless. There is barely a minute without some sort of fight and none are repetitive. There always seems to be a new way to kill someone with plenty of blood. The story is particularly in-depth in this one, with an interesting plot about deceit and betrayal within the Kuroda clan. Of particular note is the focus on the relationship between Itto and Daigoro, which in this entry is very unique and moving. The cinematography is as usual stunning, it really showcases Japan’s beautiful countryside.

No Trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 out of 5

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Ogami is hired to kill a tattooed female assassin. Gunbei Yagyu, an enemy samurai, happens upon Ogami’s son, and sees his chance for revenge.

The series keeps getting better and this one is my favourite so far. There’s more violence and gore. For the 1st time we wonder if Ogami will survive the sheer number of attacks on him by the Yagyu clan. He’s appeared to be somewhat invincible until this movie. There are various bloody sword fights on show with the superb climax in a quarry.

I can’t find a trailer but did find this clip from the movie

Sadako’s Rating: 4 out of 5

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