Impersonating an Imperial Army officer by wearing a "red lion's mane", a poor servant returns to his village after 10 years of absence to end the village's suffering caused by corrupt ... See full summary »
Impersonating an Imperial Army officer by wearing a "red lion's mane", a poor servant returns to his village after 10 years of absence to end the village's suffering caused by corrupt officials and businessmen. Written by
Alex Ebora <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To appreciate this film, it really does help to have an understanding of the history of the time in which this film is set...
For non-Japanese audiences, this is not an easy film to understand as it takes a decent knowledge of their history to understand what's happening. I will try to sum up the context for when the film begins. Although Japan was technically ruled by the Emperor, the office had long become a figurehead. So, while people loved and respected their emperors, the real running of the country was left to mob bosses, of sorts. And in the process, they exploited the people and kept the country in a feudal state. This is referred to as the Tokugawa Shogunate, as these shogun (bosses, really) ruled like emperors and the emperor lived in seclusion--in luxury but also like a virtual prisoner.
All this changed in the late 1850s when the US sent a fleet to ships to Japan to forcibly create relations with the west. You see, up until then, the Shogunate had banned virtually all contact with the outside world for two hundred years. Now, against their will, they were essentially forced to welcome the American forces...or else. The Shogunate hated this but the Emperor seized this as an opportunity to finally assert itself and take power. So, against the wishes of the various clans that ran the country, the Emperor negotiated to open up his country as well as asset control. While not an overnight change, through a series of wars and HUGE social upheaval, the country shifted to an Imperial rule--known as the Meiji period.
"Red Lion" is set about circa 1860 and begins with a new Imperial army being created to solidify power. The people are in favor of this--partly because the emperor always was the object of veneration and partly because the Shogunate had often times exploited the people for selfish reasons. And, while there was much fighting between various clans during this time, the Emperor's forces were essentially left untouched, as the Shogunate could not defy their god-like but until recently impotent leader.
In this new army is a loud and rather atypical guy (Toshirô Mifune). He is NOT one of the leaders but seems to be very willing to speak his mind to his superiors--a very non-Japanese sort of way of acting. And, when the army approaches his old home town, this brash guy suggests to the leader that Mifune be allowed to enter the place in the guise as the commander of the Imperial forces (by wearing the red headdress of the leader), as he knows the people and will get their support much quicker than the real guy. Plus, they can use their forces to enter and convert other nearby towns to their cause. While the plan makes some sense, you soon see that Mifune is, to put it bluntly, a bit inept. Can this bozo manage to complete his mission successfully--especially when the local bosses aren't about to just give up the power they've held for so long?! Well, you do have to admire the film for covering this time period in an unusual way. While I've seen plenty of Japanese films set during this struggle, almost all the others were heroic or tragic in style. This one is almost a comedy...blended with some small battle scenes. The hero, if you want to call him that, is brash but stutters and hardly instills confidence--hardly a role you might expect for Mifune, but a good one.
While I did enjoy this film, it has two basic problems. The first I have already mentioned--it's not a great film if you can't follow the plot because you don't know the history. Second, it seemed overlong--as after a while it seemed to lose some of its momentum. But, it's still essentially a good story and well worth seeing. Plus, the ending provides lots of exciting bloody action...if you're into that sort of thing.
By the way, the phrase the peasants chant at the end ""Ee ja nai ka"" was also the title of a movie about this time period and its impact on the poor. Roughly translated, it means "why not?".
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