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A Shogunate Elder connives to rule Japan by making his puppet, the Shogun's brother Tsunashige, the next Shogun. The best strategist in Japan, Yamaga, leads a plot to stop the Elder, but his cabal is betrayed and most of the conspirators are captured and tortured. Written by
The second chapter in Eiichi Kudo's Samurai Revolution trilogy bears so many similarities to its predecessor, Thirteen Assassins, that it might as well be a re-imagining of the same story. In the spirit of the anti-establishment sentiment that was prevalent in the jidai-geki of the early 60's, The Great Duel revolves around a group of revolutionaries who hatch a plot to ambush and assassinate a chancelor in an attempt to keep a corrupt, power-hungry minister from taking control of the Shogunate. The austere, very disciplined style is enhanced by beautiful black and white cinematography, sparse use of music and a pacing that doesn't rush to its final conclusion but takes time to examine and shed light on the characters. Kudo might be little known to the west, but certain scenes in The Great Duel reveal him to be a skillfull craftsman. Mis-en-scene is utilized to such effect that when a poor samurai has to murder his family (off screen), you'd be forgiven for completely missing it. The ambush in the finale is similar in many respects to the one from Thirteen Assassins; more loud and messy than stylized. In some ways, it anticipates Kinji Fukasaku's chaotic style from the early 70's. But what realism is achieved that way is diluted by the occasionally silly swordfighting (extras just waving swords at each other) and the bodyguards' hard effort not to kill our heroes. All in all it is a solid jidai-geki that combines politics, drama and an action-packed finale but doesn't quite rise to the cream of the crop.
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