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This DVD is from AnimeEigo--an excellent company because they often provide explanatory notes as a Japanese film progresses in order to help the viewer to understand the context for what is occurring. However, this film was not chock full of these explanations. This was okay for me, as I understood the references to Ronin, belly slitting, etc., but a viewer not already familiar with samurai films might feel a bit lost--even with the explanatory notes.
This film starts off in an unusual manner for a samurai film. It begins in the present and a man has been summoned to the hospital after his girlfriend attempted suicide. You are not sure why this occurred. Then, the young man begins to think about about seven generations of samurai from which he was descended.
The saga begins with a Ronin--a masterless samurai who was finally given a position with a clan. Starting with him and going though successive generations, the men all pledge their complete loyalty to their lords--a requirement of the code of Bushidô. And, in each case, their loyalty is rewarded with a complete lack of faith by the lords. One of these samurai this raped and castrated, several are forced to kill themselves, one has his wife raped and he is set up to kill his own daughter by mistake--the list of atrocities goes on and on. Yet, despite this, their children continue the tradition of absolute loyalty and respect. The lack of fairness of this system is jarring.
This is a very interesting samurai film, as most others seem to glorify this feudal system. This one, in contrast, exposes how selfish and unjust it actually could be. This is not without precedent, as films like "Samurai Rebellion" and "The 47 Roniin" also talk about unjust decisions by the lords. But, these two other films deal with specific injustices--not an intergenerational problem that repeats itself for hundreds of years! So, instead of saying the other films were aberrations, "Bushidô.." seems to say the entire structure of their society was wrong and does NOT look back at it with the usual nostalgia of other Japanese films of the genre. In fact, it then goes on to show the link of this code to the Japanese involvement in WWII--blind obedience by the nation even though the cause was unjust. And then, to the modern allegiance a worker feels to their company--an allegiance that supersedes right and wrong (just like the samurai). Because of broaching this topic in such a systematic and thorough manner, this film is impressive--very impressive. However, I am pretty sure the public must have been quite shocked by this message. It was very well said in the film as one of the children of these wronged samurai says "The lives of the samurai are not their own--they belong to their Lord".
My only problem with this film is that there simply is too much material for one film. It would have been best done as a mini-series--allowing each generation more time to be fully developed. But, this is a small complaint in an otherwise exceptional film. Another small problem is the WWII Kamikaze sequence, as the films are clearly NOT WWII vintage. But, as most all the Japanese planes had been used up in the war, their using more modern (and rather insignificant) planes could be understood.
By the way, Kinnosuke Nakamura played the roles of successive generations in this film. This was pretty interesting and considering the makeup and costumes used, it worked well.
By the way, for the more tender-hearted out there, there is a brief scene of a hare being killed and it appears real. Just be aware of this, as some might not wish to see this. However, there is A LOT of goriness and death in this film, so be forewarned regardless.
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