Kinji Fukasaku was one of Japan's most prolific directors - its ironic that his breakthrough movie in the West was the last one he made before his death at the age of 73 - that being Battle Royale.During the late '60's to the mid '70's he made a series of excellent Yakuza gangster movies then in 1978 turned to the historical epic with fine results.
It is 1624 - Japan after a lengthy civil war which resulted in the Emperor being marginalized and the Shogun running the Government - the current Shogun has died suddenly leaving the succession in doubt - his eldest son Iemestsu should succeed but he is disfigured and stammers - his more handsome younger son Tadanaga has the backing of most of the powerful Lords. Things get complicated very quickly when it becomes apparent that the Shogun was poisoned at the behest of Iemestsu's main supporter Yagyu(Kinnosuka Nakamaru) - Iemestu is as at first appalled by this but as the country get embroiled in the struggle he realises how much he needs Yagyu's support if he is to become Shogun.Meanwhile the Emperor and his courtiers plot behind the scenes to exploit the chaos and return to power.
It is an epic tale with political intrigue,battles,assassination's and some spectacular sword-fights and the question of just how much would you sacrifice to attain power - Yagyu will stop at nothing to install Iemestu and this has appalling consequences for both the country and for him personally but he is willing to commit these - Nakamara is excellent in the role - at first you side with what he is trying to do but at the tragedy unfolds you realize what a monster he is. Sonny Chiba is equally good as his eldest son who bears the brunt of one consequence of his Fathers action and he brings the whole thing to its tragic conclusion with more than a touch of hubris.
It hasn't quite got the epic feel of a Kurosawa but has a much more cynical take on political struggle - highly recommended.
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