Archive for toshirô mifune

SAMURAI REBELLION (1967) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Japan, movies with tags , , , , , , on March 26, 2012 by goregirl

This is the final week of Toho March and I have five films from the studio still to review! I am not remotely capable of getting five reviews done in one week so I decided to review my two favorites of the five. There were a few of the newer Godzilla films I had never seen so I watched Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All Out Attack (2001) (bloody hell that is a long title!!). I enjoyed both of these films quite a bit but I figured I covered enough monster movies. Deciding between Sengoku Yaro (1963) and When A Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) was tough. Both films were amazing, but I could only choose one so I went with When A Woman Ascends the Stairs which will be my final review for the feature. Samurai Rebellion was the one film I knew I had to review. This was my favourite of the lot I reviewed during Toho March. Samurai Rebellion is like Romeo and Juliet, but with Samurais! An enthralling drama, an engaging love story and Toshirô Mifune kills a shitload of dudes! The film was produced by Mifune’s own production company (Mifune Productions Co) along with Toho. There was an awkward interview with director Masaki Kobayahi in the DVD special features. The director tells a story of how he was able to magnify Mifune’s voice. According to the director, Mifune was a well-known mumbler and was difficult to hear. He also suggested that Mifune was distracted by his financial involvement in the film. I got the feeling from this interview that Kobayashi didn’t think very highly of Mifune. In any case, I have seen several of Mifune’s performances and I would rank this among his best. Mifune is an absolute force to be reckoned with in Samurai Rebellion! Despite whatever issues he had with the actor, Kobayashi created something beautiful, tragic, violent and unforgettable.

Aging swordsman Isaburo Sasahara has been in a loveless arranged marriage with a miserable woman. He hopes for better for his two grown sons. Preparing for his retirement he passes on his responsibilities to his son Yogoro. Isaburo’s clan lord throws a curve ball when he requests Yogoro marry his mistress who despite baring him a son, has displeased him. Isaburo resists on his son’s behalf but Yogoro agrees to accept the woman. The stunning Ichi turns out to be a lovely, kind woman and the two fall deeply in love and have a child together. Isaburo is inspired and renewed by their love but once more his clan lord threatens his family’s happiness. When the male child of the lord’s current mistress dies suddenly, he sends for Ichi to come take her place as mother of his heir. The long-henpecked Isaburo has finally found his line in the sand and refuses his clan lord much to the chagrin of his wife and her family. With his son Yogoro at his side, they await the inevitable response of their clan.

Samurai Rebellion’s great story is complimented by one perfectly set up shot after another.  There are countless symmetrical shots where people are placed as though they were set pieces. I included a shot of the stoic wedding ceremony and the clan members gathered in the courtyard of Isaburo’s home; there are many shots I did not include of family and clan gatherings that also illustrate the symmetrical. I know little about the technical aspects of film making but Samurai Rebellion seemed perfect. Every single aspect of Samurai Rebellion is masterfully executed. The fight sequences are fantastic and some of the slickest I’ve seen in this genre. The love story is touching without making me want to vomit. The performances from the entire cast are stellar. As already mentioned, Toshirô Mifune, who plays Isaburo Sasahara is absolutely superb. Isaburo is admittedly henpecked, but he is a good man who loves his children. When he has finally had enough and rebels against his clan we root for him whole-heartedly. Also notable, is the lovely Yôko Tsukasa who plays Ichi. While Ichi’s manner is quiet and gentle she is firm in her resolve. It is Ichi that is really the story’s centerpiece. Without Ichi’s forced entry into the Sasahara family and her genuine love for Yogoro there would be no Samurai Rebellion.

While Samurai Rebellion may be set during the 1700s, in a time when Feudal Lords ruled, its story is a timeless one. Isaburo rebels in the name of love, respect for his fellow man and making one’s government representatives accountable for their actions. Isaburo is a man who never questioned authority or even his strong-willed, joyless wife. He is genuinely disgusted in his lord’s abuse of power and literally calls for his head! There is a rich complexity and yet a simplicity to Samurai Rebellion’s story. Like every aspect of this film, it is perfectly balanced.

Fans of the Samurai genre will likely enjoy Samurai Rebellion as much as I did. The rich history and culture of the Japanese is always fascinating. Add a beautiful love story, a dash of politics, some killer fight sequences, and serve with stylish flare in glorious black and white! Absolutely delicious! I don’t know if I was feeling particularly sentimental the night I watched Samurai Rebellion but I absolutely loved it, and I’m giving it my highest of recommendations; a perfect rating.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Masaki Kobayashi

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Yôko Tsukasa, Gô Katô, Tatsuyoshi Ehara, Etsuko Ichihara, Isao Yamagata, Tatsuya Nakadai, Shigeru Kôyama, Michiko Otsuka, Tatsuo Matsumura, Masao Mishima, Jun Hamamura

DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Japan, movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by goregirl

While I consider myself a fan of director Akira Kurosawa I had not seen many of his early entries. In preparing for this feature I borrowed several Kurosawa films from the library. Three 1940’s titles I had not seen; Stray Dog, No Regrets for Our Youth and Drunken Angel and a few favorites; Yojimbo, Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood. I had no intention of reviewing these favorites; I just wanted to get a sense of how his older films compared to those I was more familiar with. Okay, who am I kidding? All three of these Kurosawa films are worth revisiting on a regular basis! I quite enjoyed both Stray Dog and No Regrets for Our Youth but of the trio Drunken Angel appealed to me the most. It should be noted that Drunken Angel is Toshirô Mifune’s first appearance in a Kurosawa film. The handsome and talented actor would make several more films with the director. However it is another Kurosawa regular that really steals my heart. Takashi Shimura is one of the finest and most likable actors on the planet. He has this wonderful kind face that makes me want to give him a big hug; but he is also immensely talented! To be honest, I have never seen a Kurosawa film I didn’t like. The man is simply a brilliant director. Enthralling stories, wonderful characters, and epic visuals; Kurosawa is truly a master of his craft!

The titular “drunken angel” is Sanada; a doctor in a crime-ridden slum district. He is a caring but blunt and painfully honest man who also happens to have a drinking problem. Low-level Yakuza Matsunaga come to Sanada to have him remove a bullet from his hand. Sanada’s no bullshit delivery and contempt for Yakuza does not sit well with Matsunaga; nor does the news that he has contracted tuberculosis. Despite his attitude Sanada takes pity on the young criminal and the two develop a tumultuous friendship.

Based on this summary you might be expecting a heavy-handed affair. While I certainly would not call Drunken Angel a heart-warming story it does have its share of humorous and light moments. Most of these bits are supplied by Sanada our alcoholic doctor. At one point he turns his nose up at the alcohol-free ice-tea he is served. In protest he creates his own special version of long island ice-tea by mixing it with some rubbing alcohol. Admittedly, the humour included is generally of the ironic type.

Sanada’s advice to Matsunaga is to lay off the drink and the women and get lots of rest. Despite his hard exterior Matsunaga takes the doctors advice to heart and gives up his vices. Complicating matters former Yakuza member Okada is released from prison. To maintain his reputation Matsunaga once more turns to drinking and womanizing. It doesn’t take long before Okada slips right back into his former position and he even steals Matsunaga’s girl Nanae. A further complication involving Sanada’s female assistant; formerly the abused girlfriend of Okada presents itself. Matsunaga feels an obligation to help out the doctor and confronts Okada. In the end, Matsunaga comes to the sad and lonely realization that he is expendable in this world of crime.

Drunken Angel is basically a cautionary tale about the choices we make in life. Not a particularly original idea even in 1948. While the premise may ring familiar the presentation is what makes Drunken Angel shine. The slow but steady pace suits the material and the constant change of scenery keeps things interesting. As mentioned previously Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune are both wonderful talented actors. Mifune and Shimura have great chemistry. Both actors get to play characters that are as fragile as they are intense and the result is electric and extremely watchable. The use of a lone guitar player strumming each evening in the center of the district is magnificent. I was particularly impressed with the scene where Okada fresh out of prison asks to borrow the guitar and plays a favourite tune. A melody that is recognized by his abused ex-girlfriend. Quite a beautiful piece of music to introduce an ugly character. The scenery is effectively bleak and dreary and the ugly sewage pond smack-dab in the center of the district is a constant focal point. It is insinuated that the polluted pond is the cause of the tuberculosis spreading across the district. Children are seen playing in and around the filthy water and it is not difficult to imagine a young Matsunaga growing up here surrounded by black market profiteers and yakuza. There is some action thrown in the mix but it is decidedly secondary to the drama.

The Criterion version I borrowed from the library had an excellent supplement called Kurosawa and the Censors. The film was produced and released during the American occupation of Japan. Filmmakers were not allowed to show anything that could be construed as negative about the occupation. Kurosawa managed to sneak in all sorts of commentary that was subtle enough to be missed by the censors. Makes me appreciate the director that much more! Drunken Angel comes highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Reisaburô Yamamoto, Michiyo Kogure, Chieko Nakakita, Noriko Sengoku, Shizuko Kasagi, Eitarô Shindô, Masao Shimizu, Taiji Tonoyama, Yoshiko Kuga, Chôko Iida, Ko Ubukata