The title character, Takezo (later renamed MM), is a fierce beast who lives for fighting and war. The opening of the film sees him crawling in the mud and around slain soldiers to find the young lad who joined him in battle. Takezo mourns that "there'll be no more wars, and what shall I do ?".
The pair are sheltered by a woman and her daughter, who live by stealing from dead soldiers. All four are on the run, as Takezo has in fact deserted. And when Takezo is in turn deserted by the other three, be becomes an outlaw, killing to escape capture.
But he feels obliged to return home, to pass on news and check on his sister's welfare. The game of cat and mouse has begun. The Shogun's vassal's men fail, and the job of capturing the fugitive falls to a wily priest.
I found this film at least watchable and, at times, engrossing. I could well have imagined the great Mifune playing the lead role. Takezo is bursting with vigour and aggression, seething like a wild beast. When he is captured, he is trussed up like a chicken and strung on a high tree to twist in the wind and "have his eyes picked out by the crows". During this scene, he holds a long dialogue with his captors, mainly the priest. His rasping, screeching and furious voice is nearly spellbinding.
The performances are great all round. Apart from the lead actor, the wily priest gives a performance which runs the gamut from serious to hilarous. And the spiteful and scheming grandmother is a real blast too.
This story is reportedly a classic and has been filmed many times. My views it that Takezo is a kind of Japanese everyman. Seething with passion but hemmed in by a society which no longer values warriors. A beast who is being coaxed towards spiritual awakening. Loyal to certain people, including family, but betrayed at unexpected times.
And there is some simply beautiful scenery. Panoramic views of snow-capped mountains and green fields. Lovely stuff.
In short, a powerful film with action, betrayal and a strong spiritual theme. Recommended.
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