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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 <email@example.com>
Satire of Japanese History likely to seem bizarre to Americans
Gonzo (Mifune Toshiro), a Robin Hood-like figure, shows up in his home town after several years' absence wearing a red wig like those worn by leaders of the imperial army. The son of a farmer, Gonzo has returned in supposed honor as a leader of the revolutionary imperial army, overthrowing the power of the Tokugawa shogunate and restoring power to the Emperor. Conflict and comedy result as Gonzo's military prowess and connection to the imperial army are called into question. Mifune carries the film in a role similar to his portrayal of Kikuchiyo in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954).
Those with little knowledge of the Meiji restoration might find some of the comedy difficult to grasp.
I feel that there is an undercurrent of socialist revolution beneath the comedy in this film. The interplay between Gonzo and the local magistrate's samurai bodyguard, Hanzo, is the main vehicle for this agenda. Gonzo displays an unwavering faith that "the world is changing" and that the ruling elite will no longer be allowed to enslave the masses. Hanzo counters him with "the only thing that will change is the flower on the official crest."
Okamoto's other films do not necessarily support this agenda, although Samurai Assassin (1965) and Sword of Doom (1966) both center on disillusioned ronin, like Hanzo, who participate in the fractious revolutionary activities leading up to the Meiji restoration out of interest for their personal advancement rather than idealistic belief in social progress.
I found this a complex film, but one worth watching if you are interested in Japanese history or culture.
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