A stark, desperate tale of vengeance, Shura examines the plight of Gengobe - a Ronin (Samurai without Master) - and his quest to right the wrongs done unto him. This is basically the whole plot in a nutshell, but this isn't any kind of action adventure story or pulp fiction Samurai epic, rather a philosophical and meditative examination of manipulation and a misguided affection which blinds a man from his duty and true quest. True this is a staple of Japanese cinema - but it is one which has rarely been examined quite this painfully and as unflinchingly as it is in this film.
The theatrical origins of Matsumoto's film are very evident from the onset of this bleak piece, an extremely minimalist affair, but this only adds to the feeling of entrapment and claustrophobia. Daylight is glimpsed only once (the first shot as the sun sinks from the blood-red sky - also the only shot in colour) and the story plays out over the course of several nights.
As with his previous film 'Funeral Parade of Roses' Matsumoto employs many times a 'dual reality' device replaying scenes first as the protagonist imagines, and then as it actually happens, constantly keeping the viewer unsettled, with shocking - though never gratuitous - spurts of violence which one is torn between finding sympathy with and being repulsed by.
This is a film which is easier to admire than to actually like, but it's forlorn, doomed and - literally - lightless vision means it could only be truthfully recommended to those who are fans of truly downbeat cinema. A viciously dark night of the Soul.
9/10. 1 point deducted for not showing even the slightest glimmer of hope.
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