A destitute ronin allies himself with an established clan, but its ruthless leader tries to turn him into a mindless killer.

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
...
Hanpeita Takechi
...
Shinbei Tanaka
...
Mitsuko Baishô ...
Onimo
Takumi Shinjo ...
Minakawa
Noboru Nakaya ...
Kintoki Anegakoji
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jin'ichirô Andô
Takeshi Date ...
Rônin patrol leader
Tatsuo Fujimori
Ren Fukuyama
Kin'ichi Hagimoto
Ken Hatano
Jirô Higashioo
Sôtarô Ibuki
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Storyline

Izo Okada, a ronin (masterless samurai), desperately seeks a way out of his financial straits. He allies himself with the Tosa clan under the ruthless leader, Takechi, and imagines that he has come up in the world. But Takechi makes Izo a killer and a puppet, filled with self-loathing and a need to stop Takechi. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Action | Drama | History

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Release Date:

February 1970 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tenchu!  »

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(Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Trivia

Yukio Mishima's character commits seppuku and one year later, Mishima himself will commit the same way of ritual suicide. See more »

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Version of Izo (2004) See more »

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User Reviews

Hideo Gosha scores another triumph in 1969
8 June 2008 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

It's a testament to Gosha's incredible film-making prowess that he was able to complete both Hitokiri and his stunning masterpiece, Goyokin, in the same year, 1969. And it's a testament to how criminally underrated he remains for the general public (compared to media darlings like the great Akira Kurosawa), that both Hitokiri and Goyokin have received less than 500 votes between the two of them.

Shintaro Katsu is Okada Izo: mad dog killer, loyal to the Tosha clan and their boss Takechi, played by another genre stalwart, Tatsuya Nakadai. The Tosha clan was part of a larger alliance that supported the Emperor against the flailing Shogunate. The historical backdrop is fairly accurate - with Japan's increasing political turmoil between imperialists and the Tokugawa and the pressure by the West to end a 300 year social and political seclusion. It helps a lot to know a thing or two about Japanese history and what eventually led to the Meiji Restoration and the abolition of the Tokugawa Shogunate, but it's not essential by any means. The movie was made primarily for a Japanese audience so certain things are taken for granted but it flows very well for the uninitiated as well.

As one would expect from a Hideo Gosha film in his golden years (the late 60's) the visual palette is breathtaking, the use of external and internal symbolism hiding behind pictorial beauty. Style however is never decorative for Gosha - it is always employed in the service of story.

And speaking of story, Hitokiri is dominated both literally and figuratively by the tortured main character Izo Okada. As most chambara protagonists, Izo finds himself in a moral double-bind, torn between giri (obligation) and ninjo (natural impulse) - although it takes a while for him to realize what exactly his giri is. In the first half of the movie Izo is trying for social self-advancement. Lofty aspirations of social rank and marriage with an aristocrat's daughter - a great progression for someone coming from a farmer's background in the rigid social caste system of 19th century Japan.

The turning point for Izo is when he realizes at what cost self-advancement comes, the loss of identity and by consequence the loss of self. It is at that point that he undergoes a very symbolic transformation from a famous swordsman of the Tosha Clan to a "nameless" drifter without past or future, Torazo the Vagrant. Although not technically nameless and not a genre drifter in Yojimbo's mold, it is the loss of his former self and the cast off of ego, ambition and self-dillusion that allows Izo to see things as they really are and redeem himself.

Hitokiri ends (which I won't reveal here) in the best way any story can end: both positive and negative with a deeply ironic twist that gives Izo the last laugh, a last sardonic remark in the face of death.


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