14 October 2009 | chaos-rampant
Kenji Misumi was a master director and Kiru alone is proof enough.
On paper, this may seem like another in a long line of Daiei star vehicles for their leading box office draw, Raizo Ichikawa. Misumi himself had already directed him in a few of those potboilers (the SATAN'S SWORD trilogy). I dunno if it should be ascribed to the zealousness of a young director eager to break free from the constraints of studio production-line film-making, if Misumi intended it as a calling card that would help him graduate into the A-list club that included Masaki Kobayashi and others, or if, concerns about status be damned, it should serve as exhibit A in the case many of us have been trying to make about Misumi as a righteous auteur with a directorial voice all his own separate from the bulk of genre filmmakers, but Kiru screams stylized masterpiece even from its opening prologue and it's obvious it was pieced together with great care and superior craftsmanship.
The slow deliberate pacing and eliptical minimalist storytelling one would sooner find in an art-house film than a chambara is broken by sudden bursts of violence, these emphasizing not bodycount and arterial sprays but beautiful choreography between camera and characters, with the killings often as not taking place off screen. In filtering his chambara dynamics through a meditative mood, in giving more weight on the preparation rather than the fight (with duels edited in a Leone fashion a few years before Leone, tight closeups of eyes and bodies et al), Kiru soars above anything else Daiei was producing at the time to occupy the same stylized moody genre space others like Jean Pierre Melville would arrive years later. The gloomy fatalism and visual grammar is all Misumi's though and it would continue to show up in his work in the coming years, although stunning shots like the circular overhead shot of Ichikawa opening doors in search of his boss would rarely be repeated.
Misumi may never get the critical acclaim and Criterions other of his peers who created in genre film-making like Yasuzo Masumura (also in Daiei), Masahiro Shinoda (in Shochiku) and Seijun Suzuki (in Nikkatsu) have enjoyed because he never got on board the Japanese New Wave wagon, but Kiru is proof enough that he was one of the master directors of his generation.