Epic finale for the career of director Kenji Misumi
Kenji Misumi was one of the preeminent Japanese chambara directors in the 1960's. A distinctive stylist who could elevate his films with emotional context. He was a regular Zatoichi director as well the main director for the exceptional Lone Wolf series in the 1970's. This is his last film and it is a high point of his career.
The film follows the story of Sugi Toranosuke, a ronin, who returns to his home town of Edo many years after his attempted suicide as a sickly child. Rescued and adopted by a master swordsman, he has grown into a master swordsman and a very kind gentleman. The time is around 1868 the year that the nails were finally put into the coffin containing the feudal system that nurtured and sustained the samurai. Sugi is confused and unsure about what is happening but his teacher wants him out of the chaos of the multiple power struggles between the various clans.
The story is very complex and features several important characters who disappear for a time and come back. Familiarity with the events of the time will help the viewer transverse the complexities of the different clans and who is who. For example, we are briefly shown Kondo, who is the leader of the Shogun's Shinsengumi force (but we are not told that) and later we are told his head is being publicly displayed. It's meaningless for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese history.
Regardless the movie is very well made and the story of Suga thru this chaotic time is compelling. Director Misumi, who is known for his stylistic flourishes, keeps the movie restrained but the the visuals retain his signature style. Viewers expecting the strong visuals of the Lone Wolf series won't be entirely disappointed but Misumi directs this film in a more serious tone. The sound track is by Akira Ikufube, better known for his Godzilla themes. It actually gives the film a feeling that it was made in the early 1960's and that might have been purposeful by Misumi. Many of his films show his high disdain for the samurai times and this film certainly keeps up with that theme. It's almost as if this film was trying to end the chambara genre once and for all. Certainly the genre had petered out by 1975.
Long but worth it. I suggest reading about this era first.
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