This film is yet another entry in a popular family saga of Japanese literature. Director Tomu Uchida had filmed a version of Jinsei Gekijo Seishun Hen (Theater of Life, Youth Version)in 1936 to considerable acclaim. For the 1968 film, he changed the setting from a samurai tale to a yakuza story. Yakuza films were quite popular at the time.
The protagonist, Hishakaku, is a young yakuza mentored by a retired yakuza gambler, Kiratsune. He kills a rival yakuza during a bar fight over his geisha girlfriend Otoyo and is sent to prison for three years. Otoyo leaves town since she and Hishakaku are targets of the rival gang, and becomes a successful geisha elsewhere. When Hishakaku is released from prison, he joins Kiratsune and travels to the same town where Otoyo works and they reunite unexpectedly.
Kiratsune becomes mortally ill and Hishakaku summons his brother to see the old gambler on his deathbed, but the rival gang has been keeping an eye on the brother, waiting for him to lead them to Hishakaku. When they find him, blood will be spilled.
The end fight is strikingly filmed. When Hishakaku finds his brother dead, the film suddenly goes from color to black and white. Hishakaku annihilates the entire rival gang despite being seriously wounded himself. When the fight's over, Otoyo arrives to find her lover and color is restored. Hishakaku's fate is uncertain as he disappears into a blood red mist.
There isn't a lot of action until the end, but that last sequence is worth the wait. Uchida uses subjective camera and hand-held photography to immerse the viewer into the action.
This was Uchida's penultimate film. He died of cancer in 1970 leaving "Miyamoto Musashi VI" unfinished. His work is little known outside Japan, but there is little doubt that he was a master filmmaker.
We recommend this film highly.
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