Red Lion (1969) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Impersonating an Imperial Army officer by wearing a "red lion's mane", a poor servant returns to his village after 10 years of absence to end the village's suffering caused by corrupt officials and businessmen.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The year is 1868. The Tokugawa shogunate has been overthrown, and the Empire restored. The White-hair officers and the Red Vanguard meet on a rainy day. The leader of the White-hair officers tells Sagara Sozo, the leader of the Red Vanguard, to announce that there will be taxes cut by half in all towns. One foot-soldier, Gonzo, is so excited by this prospect that he decides to ride home wearing Sagara's red shaguma. As soon as he rides into the middle of the street, the clumsy Gonzo falls off his horse and is almost trampled by villagers being oppressed by enforcers. Mistaking him for a captain, a kindly young woman takes Gonzo in and fills him in on what has been going on in the past ten years, while he was absent: the town has been swindled from years by a corrupt magistrate, KomaTora who pays the love of Gonzo's life, a prostitute named Tomi, for sex. Outraged, Gonzo goes limping down the street to announce the Imperial Restoration and take down KomaTora. On the way, he sees an old man named Gohei, who is trying to hang himself. Gonzo cuts the rope and talks Gohei out of suicide. KomaTora is about to punish hotheaded rebel leader Sanji by making him cut off his own fingers when Gonzo charges in and cuts the chopping block in half. A stunned KomaTora remembers how he had Gonzo whipped, tied up, and thrown into the river after taking Tomi from him, and is amazed that Gonzo is still alive. Gonzo announces that he is a member of the Red Vanguard, the Tokugawa Shogunate is "kaput", and the Empire has been restored. He demands to know where Tomi is, and goes to look for her. On his way to the brothel, Gonzo meets Sanji, who admits that he's an "Edo guy". He doesn't like the Empire, so having an Imperial soldier saving him puts him in an awkward position. At the brothel, Gonzo announces to the prostitutes that he stole their contracts from KomaTora. They're skeptical and laugh at him, but he has Sanji read out the documents. Convinced, the prostitutes all come running out. Gonzo sees that Tomi is not among them. Running inside, he finds her in her room. She's shocked to see him alive. Years ago, after KomaTora tried to kill Gonzo, he told Tomi that Gonzo was dead and raped her. Gonzo tells Tomi that he has her contract and, taking off the red wig, joyfully embraces her. The Tokugawa sympathizers visit a mercenary named Hanzo, whom they hire to get rid of Gonzo. Hanzo agrees, but demands money. Meanwhile, Tomi gives Gonzo boiled zenmai to eat. Gonzo remarks that it's just like the zenmai his mother made, and finds to his surprise that his mother, Ume, is living in the brothel. Ume fills Gonzo in on what has been happening since his absence: his father died, they couldn't pay the taxes and their family farm got taken away. Tomi's father killed himself in that time as well. Gonzo is hit hard by the news. Sanji comes to visit and tells Gonzo that he learned English from old Dr. Gensai, who was the one who started the rebellion against KomaTora. Gonzo visits the youth army, gains their trust and decides to lead an attack on Deputy Kintayu. On the way there, he meets Hanzo, who cuts off part of his wig, declaring that Red Lions piss him off. Gonzo rebuts that the world is changing, but Hanzo shoots this down, claiming that the only thing that will change is the flower on the Imperial crest. He decides not to fight Gonzo now, dismissing him as a "kids' coach", and Gonzo continues on his way. Before he arrives at the Deputy's house, Gonzo decides that most of the youths, one of them the son of a lumberjack, should stay behind and keep a lookout while he and several of the others, including Sanji, go in the front and demand to see the Deputy. While the Deputy hides in a latrine, a Tokugawa loyalist tries to bribe Gonzo with money. Gonzo angrily turns down the offer. At that moment, a young man throws shrine paper down from a tree. Gonzo proclaims it a miracle and rejoices along with the rest of the villagers. He gives away the land tax rice to the villagers and declares it to be a world where farmers will prevail. Gonzo forgets about the boys he left behind and they're caught by a Shogunate sympathizer. That night, the villagers celebrate, dancing and chanting, "Eijanaika, eijanaika, eijanaika!", meaning "Whatever, whatever, whatever!" Gonzo and Tomi happily watch the party, and are brought a huge hamper especially for them. One man, Kisoya, contributes money to the Imperial force- five hundred ryo. As Gonzo tries to remember where exactly this contribution is going to go, he describes all of the Imperial officers he remembers. Kintayu and KomaTora are brought before Gonzo and he jokingly decides how to punish them. Kintayu receives a scolding message from a mysterious Shogunate sympathizer force known as "Mobile Unit One". Sanji steals the letter and shows it to Gonzo. Just then, Gonzo gets news that Hanzo wants to duel with him outside the tavern. Despite protests from his friends, Gonzo agrees to the duel. As he goes out into the street, one of the youths who had escaped from capture, Kesaji, goes to tell Gonzo that the rest had been beaten and ordered to cut down trees on Mount Kenashi. Gonzo agrees to rescue Kesaji's friends once he's finished with the duel. A shot rings out and Kesaji falls down dead in the street. Gonzo curses and urges everyone to get back. Gonzo confronts Hanzo, who proves to Gonzo that he didn't shoot the youth, but whoever did is a coward. He bids a bemused Gonzo farewell. Gonzo and Tomi spend the night together. Tomi has a nightmare and screams in her sleep, inadvertently waking Gonzo. He wakes Tomi and asks what's wrong. She tearfully confesses that she had a dream that she was being beaten, whipped and forced to stand naked in snow, which is what they used to do to her a long time ago, as punishment for not earning enough. Gonzo consoles her for a while, before realizing that he has to rescue the captured lumberjacks.

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