28 July 2007 | matt-803
Standard period drama elevated by star studded cast (No Spoilers)
This film is sure to appeal to fans of its famous principle actors Toshiro Mifune (Yojimbo), Katsu Shintaro (Zatoichi) and Yujiro Ishihara (Baby Cart series). The film was the last film in director Hiroshi Inagaki's long career. It will please the fans of the jidai geki (historical period drama) more than the those looking for chambara (sword fighting flick).
The film is considered to be the last of four films featuring the 'yojimbo' (bodyguard) character or nameless samurai created for Mifune by Akira Kurosawa. The first two films, "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro", are classics of the genre and have much more ambitious goals than the film we are considering here. The third film, the weakest offering amongst the the four, was "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo" directed by Kihatchi Okamoto in which Toshiro Mifune does not really play the same character we are considering here and is a film which fits more comfortably into the chambara category.
This film feels much like an extension of the Japanese television 'period drama' of its day which I confess to being somewhat partial to. It is elevated by the star studded cast and their performances however it is limited by a tendency at times toward melodrama, the use of stock genre character types and what appears to be a hastily tacked on ending to provide resolution to one of the major narrative threads. It is the last element which is the most unsatisfactory and the film would probably have been better served without tying up this thread at all rather than handling it in a manner which makes it appear to be a cursory afterthought.
Still the film does have much which will satisfy fans of the genre with good performances, an interesting if complex interplay of events and an examination of human behaviour when looking at individuals placed in a high pressure situation. I have heard the film compared to Archie Mayo's "The Petrified Forest" with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. This is an apt comparison from the standpoint of the situation which the characters find themselves in.
For those solely interesting in the action elements: The film does have two interesting scenes of sword play, the first beautiful and brief, the second longer and exciting if somewhat less beautifully choreographed. It also features a ham handed fist fight near the beginning of the film which would make John Wayne appear a well schooled boxer by comparison.
But really for those looking for a blood and guts samurai flick you would be much better served by picking up something like "Sword of Doom" or something from the Zatoichi series. This is a film for fans of genre, looking for a rather standard period drama elevated by good performances by Mifune and Katsu.