While Misumi would continue to improve his riffs as a top-drawer director, this second episode shows all of the hallmarks of the mature Misumi in its fight choreography, choice of establishing scenes and camera angles, and character development.
Ryunosuke, having given up all attachments to his family and former associates, travels like a kite over central Japan, relentlessly pursued by coincidence and chance. Repeatedly confronted with his stunningly rapid karma, he seems to grow from the selfish, murderous young man of the first episode into an adult with a growing sense of responsibility for his actions.
The way Misumi set up his shots is classic Japanese cinema, reminiscent of Inagaki and even Kurosawa at times. Notice the dojo scene, when young Hyoma accepts a lesson from the wise old Lord, who has seen Ryonosuke in action. The final group fight scene is perfect in its timing, style and economy. This is what the Chinese directors acknowledged in the documentary "Chop Socky Cinema," when they gave a nod to the Japanese directors of the early 60's for innovations in action choreography. Misumi would repeat this staging effect in almost all of his later work. Eight or ten enemies surround the hero, who stands quietly in the center until he mows everyone down with just a few strokes. This scenario is the heart of the Nemuri Kyoshiro (Sleepy Eyes of Death,) Zatoichi and Lone Wolf series, all shaped largely by Misumi.
Like that other Kenji, Mizoguchi that is, Misumi was well-known for his ability to work effectively with women. He allowed his actresses to be interesting and more fully formed than the typical decorative set pieces of contemporaries. They bring a real world quality and depth to his films, one which is often missing in jidai geki.
Volume 2 is a mini-masterpiece and one which we can, thankfully, enjoy without the inevitable comparisons to "Sword of Doom" and the splendid, intense Tatsuya Nakadai as Ryunosuke. This episode has plenty to recommend it to fans of chanbara.
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