Bushido Blade is a film that kind of got lost with all the hoopla surrounding the Shogun TV mini-series. Commodore Perry's opening of Japan deserved a better treatment than what it got here.
No reflection on the cast, they certainly try hard enough. And the making of the film is a service of sorts because America is woefully ignorant about Japan other than knowing that they were our opponents in World War II.
Making his farewell appearance on the screen is Richard Boone as the crusty Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry. From what little I know of Perry, Boone seems to have captured him very well. Perry was the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry who was the commander of the Great Lakes Navy that beat the British and kept them from invading us through Canada. Younger brother Cal (family and friends used Perry's middle name when addressing him)served in the United States Navy for over 30 years and the opening of Japan was the capstone of a great career.
Bushido Blade is a fictional sideline to the true events surrounding the treaty Perry signed with the Shogun. There was a faction in Japan who wanted to keep the country's isolationist policy going and were quite willing to do anything in that endeavor. They steal a ceremonial samurai sword that is to be presented to President Franklin Pierce by Perry. As this is a question of honor, the Japanese balk at signing the treaty at the last minute.
The Japanese insist on themselves recovering the sword, but Perry unofficially sends Marine Captain Frank Converse, Boatswain Mike Starr, and young Naval Midshipman Timothy Patrick Murphy on his own mission. The three get split up during an attack. The bulk of the film is the separate experiences of all three.
Frank Converse is a fine actor, but I couldn't quite believe him as an instant Samurai. When he has to battle the champion Samurai he gets a bit of help to say the least. Skill with a Samurai sword is not something one learns on the job or on the fly and by rights he should never have survived.
Young Timothy Patrick Murphy cuts a fine romantic figure as his odyssey includes a small romantic interlude with a young Japanese girl who is intrigued by this occidental who speaks her language. Murphy reminded me just a bit of Tyrone Power in Son of Fury. It was sad indeed that he died so young of AIDS, he had a great career ahead of him.
Such fine Japanese players as Toshiro Mifune, Tetsuro Tamba, and Mako fill their roles well. I very much enjoyed James Earl Jones who played a whaling harpooner who was a prisoner. Before the treaty was signed with Japan, sailors from the west who had the misfortune to be shipwrecked in Japan could expect never to see home again.
The Bushido Blade is an average film about a key incident in both American and Japanese history. It could have used a lot more of everything, direction, production values, editing. But the players did their best with it.
A good triple feature one day might be watching The Barbarian and the Geisha even with a woefully miscast John Wayne, The Bushido Blade, and the best film on 19th century Japan after the opening, The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. It's a chance to see the Japanese as more than our enemies in World War II or having their city's destroyed by some prehistoric beast.
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