This is perhaps my favorite film ever, from a brilliant Japanese director who is unjustly obscured by Kurosawa´s shadow.
It tells of a time of peace in feudal Japan when the lords lost their need for employing hundreds of samurai to protect their villages. The masterless samurai (ronin) wandered the countryside seeking employment. Many had to settle for menial labor (Tatsuya Nakadai´s character makes umbrellas with his daughter), and others knocked on the doors of the lords estate to ask permission to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) so that they could die with honor. It is told at the beginning that many of the warriors did this in the hopes that the lords would pay them to leave (it seems that the lord’s honor did not permit them to refuse the request outright, but neither did they want blood shamefully tarnishing their courtyards). This is the background as Nakadai´s Hanshuro Tsugumo — in a truly remarkable and understated performance — approaches the estate of lord Kageyu Saito and asks to kill himself on their doorstep.
What follows is a psychological game of cat and mouse, as the lord tries to scare off the ronin and the samurai becomes adamant in his desire to die. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to his story than being a random vagabond. But it’s the manner in which Kobayashi unfolds this story that is the real treat for the viewer. It is a very slow boiler, which works to build the suspense to an almost unbearable level before the cathartic climax. The camera work is impeccable, and the script is sparse. Accompanied by a deliberate pace it runs the danger of boring, but with careful viewing will not. Kobayashi performs psychological and emotional judo throughout, manipulating the viewer´s allegiance in a way I’ve never experienced.
For being a slow film, it is incredibly intense. There are several wonderful swordfights throughout, though it never becomes gratuitous. If you are not captivated by the graphic scene in the beginning of a poor samurai (who was trying to extort the lord and got called on it) forced to commit seppuku with a bamboo sword (he had already pawned off his real one), you are not alive. It is agonizing.
In conclusion, see this film. You will not be disappointed. And if you are, you are not welcome back on my site. Fans of the movie should check out the same director´s “Samurai Rebellion,” not a 10 like this one, but great nonetheless.
17 March 2010