Saturday, April 08, 2017

Samurai Rebellion

Based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi, Samurai Rebellion is the story of a samurai’s son who is forced to marry a clan lord’s mistress where things don’t go as planned prompting the clan lord to change his mind leading a showdown between the lord and an aging samurai. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto, the film is an exploration into a man being pulled into a world that he doesn’t want to as an act to protect his family. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Go Kato, Yoko Tsukasa, Shigeru Koyama, Masao Mishima, Isao Yamagata, Tatsuyoshi Ehara, Tatsuo Matsumara, and Tatsuya Nakadai. Samurai Rebellion is a gripping yet evocative film from Masaki Kobayashi.

Set in 1725 during the Edo period of Japan, the film revolves around the request of a clan lord who asks for a family to take in one of his mistresses as the son of a samurai warrior marries the mistress. Yet, the marriage ends up being very fruitful and loving until an incident involving the lord’s family changes things and wants the mistress back in the castle forcing her husband to refuse the request and his father to prepare for battle against the lord and his entire clan. It’s a film that explores not just rules of working for a clan but also try to balance that and devote time to family as the samurai warrior Isaburo Sasahara (Toshiro Mifune) is considered the best. The only equal he has in terms of swordsmanship is his best friend Tatewaki Asano (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is the clan’s gatekeeper as he is a man of formality and honor. Sasahara is also a man of honor but the request he’s given to take in a lord’s mistress weighs heavily on him as he is in a loveless marriage and doesn’t want his eldest son Yogoro (Go Kato) to be in one.

Yet, the mistress in Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa) turns out to be a very gracious and kind woman who was forced into being a mistress because her father worked in the lord’s castle. She would tell Yogoro everything including how she was kicked out of the castle after bearing him a son who would be an heir to the lord’s throne. Still, Yogoro and Isaburo accepts him to the family much to the chagrin of Isaburo’s wife Kenmotsu (Takamaru Sasaki) who is aghast into how Ichi was kicked out of the lord’s castle. The film’s script doesn’t just play into this conflict of two people wanting a happy life but also how there are those who just want to use people for power as Isaburo realizes that the clan lord he’s been serving for has become dishonorable and selfish. Many would try to get Ichi back to the castle including Yogoro’s younger brother Bunzo (Tatsuyoshi Ehara) who would trick her but both Isaburo and Yogoro are aware that it’s being handled without them or Ichi having a say in the matter.

That is something Asano would notice as he would be asked by clan leaders to kill Isaburo but he refuses because he of some details which prove that he’s a man of rules. Yet, he and Isaburo become more aware that rules are changing to fit into a new world that doesn’t care for things such as honor. It would force Isaburo and his son to expect the worst as it’s all about getting Ichi back to her family. Especially where the lord’s regime would carry out weapons and such that would represent this idea of a new and darker world that Isaburo isn’t a part of.

Masaki Kobayashi’s direction is definitely entrancing as it has these gorgeous framing devices as well as a great depth of field to get a look from above inside the Sasahara home. The usage of the wide shots would play into the location including scenes early in the film where Isaburo and Asano would go to clan leaders and demonstrate their skills as they would walk home discussing the future. Kobayashi would also use some medium shots and close-ups for the intimate moments inside the Sasahara home along with some wide shots for a sequence where Ichi tells Yogoro her story of how she was picked to become the lord’s mistress. The sequence where Ichi recalls the moment she realized her role for this lord and seeing his new mistress is presented in still shots when she attacks her. It’s a moment in the film where Kobayashi would present something that is very stylized yet prefers to create something that is striking in where he would put his actors into a frame.

Kobayashi also maintains something that is theatrical in his framing as it would emphasize more on strategy and drama rather than action which is often common with samurai movies. By placing the moment of samurai duels in the third act, Kobayashi is more focused on building up the tension between the Sasahara family and the clan lord as the former would even write a petition to free Ichi and return her home. To the lord’s clan leaders, they see this as an act of insolence where the showdown between a steward and Isaburo would come to ahead but it’s all about strategy and who moves first. Yet, there is also an anguish into its outcome as it play into loss and this cruelty emerging into the new world that Isaburo and Asano aren’t a part of. Overall, Kobayashi creates a rapturous yet eerie film about a man trying to defend his family against the wishes of a cruel clan lord.

Cinematographer Kazuo Yamada does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its emphasis on natural lighting and shadows where there is so much detail shown including some interior scenes involving candles and oil lanterns and how it can set a tone for the scene. Editor Hisashi Sagara does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward with very few stylish cuts in order to play up the intensity of the drama. Production designer Yoshio Muraki does brilliant work with the look of the homes of some of the characters including the Sasahara house with such detail including its sand pits. The sound work of Shigenosuke Okuyama does fantastic work with the sound as it help play into some of the suspense and drama including in some of the sword play and action. The film’s music by Toru Takemitsu is incredible for its usage of traditional string instruments and percussions to add an atmospheric tone to some of the scenes as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Masao Mishima as a chamberlain, Tatsuo Matsumara as the clan lord Masakata Matsudaira who rules Edo and its province, Etsuko Ichihara as the wet nurse for Ichi and Yogoro’s baby, Tatsuyoshi Ehara as Yogoro’s younger brother Bunzo, Takamaru Sasaki as Yogoro and Bunzo’s mother/Isaburo’s wife Kenmotsu, Isao Yamagata as a relative of Ichi who tries to get her back to the castle, and Shigeru Koyama as the steward Geki Takahashi who starts off as an ally only to side with his master and try to attack Isaburo. Go Kato is excellent as Yogoro as a young samurai who is made head of his family a year after his marriage to Ichi as he copes with the new request to return his wife to the castle as he refuses in hoping to save his family and provide a future for his newborn daughter.

Yoko Tsukasa is fantastic as Ichi as a young woman who is sent to the Sasahara family to marry Yogoro as punishment for her actions towards a clan lord where she feels accepted in her new family only to become a pawn in a lord’s selfish act. Tatsuya Nakadai is brilliant as Tatewaki Asano as a gatekeeper who is Isaburo’s best friend that is a man who is about rules and formalities as he copes with the situation Isaburo was in as he tries to make sense of everything but also maintain his own honor. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune in an incredible performance as Isaburo Sasahara as a samurai warrior who finds himself trying to defend his family’s honor after a lord wants his mistress back as Mifune plays a man trying to do what is right for his son and daughter-in-law as well as defy whoever stood in his way as it’s one of Mifune’s finest performances.

Samurai Rebellion is a phenomenal film from Masaki Kobayashi that feature great performances from Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai. It’s a film that explores the world of the samurai as well as a man trying to defend what is right for his family against the cruel and selfish acts of a clan lord. In the end, Samurai Rebellion is a tremendous film from Masaki Kobayashi.

Masaki Kobayashi Films: (Black River) - The Human Condition Trilogy - Harakiri - Kwaidan - (Hymn to a Tired Man) - (The Fossil) - (Tokyo Trial)

© thevoid99 2017


Dell said...

Toshiro Mifune? I'm in. Gotta get my hands on this.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-I'm sure you can find it on Criterion as it is not just a great samurai film but also a study of honor and devotion. Plus, Mifune is probably one of the most original badasses in film.

Anonymous said...

I saw this at a weird film festival and was quite astonished.

thevoid99 said... is an astonishing film and certainly a quintessential samurai film.