Saturday, October 3, 2009

Samurai Rebellion (1967)


After the death of the lord's heir, the lord's ex-mistress, Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa), and mother to his eldest son, is taken away from her new husband, Yogoro (Takeshi Kato), and baby girl, Tomi. Yogoro's father, the disciplined and unmatched samurai, Isaburo (Toshiro Mifune), who has never known love, marrying into a prestigious family at a young age, teams up with his son to get his wife back.

As I continue to make my way through samurai films, there's just so many, there's always some that are very intriguing. Kobayashi's 1967 film Samurai Rebellion, is perhaps one of the more interesting ones I've seen in that it's not really a samurai film. In fact for it's 2 hour run time there's not a single fight sequence until the 95minute mark. Up until this point Kobayashi works with story, how Ichi and Yogoro got together, the emotional bond that develops between them, and the subsequent series of events that tears them apart.

As is rather usual in old school samurai films (that I've seen), Isaburo is the super samurai of the clan, nobody, not even an army of swordsman can beat. As such he provides a strong counter-point to his son, who struggles with the knowledge he may never see his loved one again. At the same time, there's a unique friend dynamic that presents itself. Isaburo's only real friend, Tatewaki (Tatsuyo Nakadai), and his only near rival in swordsmanship, is forced into a situation in which he is Isaburo's only real opponent.

As such the movie relies heavily on tension and character development. The build up is probably 15minutes too long in terms of pacing, and will likely not appeal to action fans. The final 30 minutes consists of 3 back to back battles, which lead our characters to their ultimate fates. These battles are wonderfully shot, very quiet, and intriguing to the eye. Yet at each turn it's apparent that these battles are not the true message of the film, instead they stand for a bit of a more romantic notion... the fight for love, irregardless of life. The transformation each character must take is intriguing, but not well established. Mifune, for all his dynamic presence, doesn't quite have the range of emotion to make every scene work. Though none of these make the film bad by any measure, just not quite as epic and powerful as it should have been.

While not perfect by any stretch, Samurai Rebellion is a unique and well designed samurai film, concerned with characters and substance over constant action.

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