Had a bit of brake there but its straight back to reviewing for me!
This film is included in the awesome Rebel Samurai box set from the criterion collection, i don’t have too much biographical points to make other than it’s the first of the box set i watched because it stars the ruggedly handsome Toshiro Mifune (i mean look at this guy, as a young man he might as well be a japanese brad pitt or james dean) and is therefore worth watching.
“…Isaburo Sasahara, an aging swordsman living a quiet life until his clan lord orders that his son marry the lord’s mistress, who has recently displeased the ruler. Reluctantly, father and son take in the woman, and, to the family’s surprise, the young couple fall in love. But the lord soon reverses his decision and demands the mistress’s return. Against all expectations, Isaburo and his son refuse, risking the destruction of their entire family…”
While watching the film i was immediately reminded of the wonderful Harakiri (1962)*, its plot details the rigidity and boredom of what a life of a Samurai must’ve been after the Sengoku Jidai had ended.
All of the rules and customs that come with feudal rule are portrayed in quite an unflattering way. In Samurai Rebellion the lord’s word was to be obeyed without question regardless of its morality or justification; it is in this suffocating atmosphere the plot develops into a scathing criticism of just how backwards this time and place was when compared to modern views which is contrary to the typical romanticism that is usually present in period films.
The most damning criticism is with the issue of woman’s rights (or lack thereof) as Ichi Sasahara is traded back and forth on the whim of the fief’s lord and is regarded by him as a decoration and status symbol. This is done with total disregard of her feelings, or the well-being of her children. In medieval Japan a woman and her family did what they were ordered to do and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it honour be damned.
On top of the substance the film is also quite a visual treat, with the camera’s movement, blocking, and set design all contributing and embellishing the conflicts that develop within the plot and is well worth studying for someone interested in visual story telling.
All of the actors manage to find their parts and lend them the necessary humanity, Yôko Tsukasa and Gô Katô play the story’s star-crossed lovers with a growing and lovely intimacy that really makes us believe that the two characters genuinely love each other. Toshiro Mifune masterfully scowls through yet another one of his old weathered samurai roles, and although his sword play here isn’t as explosive as in Yojimbo or Sanjuro he is still rather well-trained in the art of Kenjutsu and it is always a pleasure to watch one of his scenes. To add to all of this the great Tatsuya Nakadai shows up for a few scenes which is always a good thing.
Although Samurai Rebellion’s story and themes are quite reminiscent of Harakiri i find that there is a reason why the latter is more popular and remembered. Although the rigidity of traditional customs like arranged marriage and the boredom and stagnation that war hardened veterans can face when peace is all that remains is criticised, the overall situation that the characters face isn’t as desperate as the one faced by the protagonists of Harakiri. Despite the central tragedy of the plot being the lack of a couple’s rights to remain married and how woman were mistreated, it just doesn’t have as much of a bite as Harakiri’s damnation of the entire idea of Samurai honour.
While not being quite as damning a critique of the Samurai way of life as his previous film was Masaki Kobayashi does manage to turn in a film that still manages to have a rather unflattering portrayal of a rather glorified place in history. As a result not only should it be recognised for its social critiques it is also a rather great movie to watch.
**** OUT OF FIVE
* it wasn’t until i had finished watching the film did i find out it was actually directed by the same man Mr. Kobayashi.