1 November 2019 | boblipton
A Man No One Can Figure Out
Japan in 1863: American warships under Perry come to Japan. Realizing they cannot fight modern forces, the 200-year-old Tokugawa Shogunate signs a treaty. This triggers a call for restoration of the Emperor's power and a death-to-foreigners movement. The Shogun is almost immediately assassinated. The new Shogun tries to ally with the Emperor through marriage, but prepares a back-up plan. Master swordsman Tetsurô Tanba. He is a ronin, a masterless samurai, and the son of a farmer. Though accomplished in the sword and the arts, he is despised by the hereditary samurai. With Tokugawa backing, he begins to assemble an army of ronin to march of the Imperial palace at Edo. Soon, he is exceeding instructions, and the Tokugawa plan a further backup. Eiji Okada orders Isao Kimura to be ready to assassinate Tanba. The Shogunate doesn't know what Tanba is up to. His old death-to-foreigners-and-up-the-Emperor confederates don't know what he is up to. The Palace at Edo issues no decrees. Does he know what he's doing?
Masahiro Shinoda's movie is a long and confusing examination of the cruelty and viperous nature of late Tokugawa Japan, the decadent end of that phase of Japanese history. It's filled with many startling images, offered in black-and-white factuality, that removes any trace of romance from the story; even the love story of Tanba and Shima Iwashita, whom he rescues from a brothel, is filled with pain and anguish. It's as effective a condemnation of Old Japan -- and by inference, New Japan -- as anything that Kurosawa did.