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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Fri May 08, 2009 4:10 am    Post subject: New Releases From Animeigo's Samurai Cinema Reply with quote

Animeigo continues its release of the 8 film Shinobi No Mono series with Shinobi No Mono 4: Siege (Japanese title Shinobi No Mono: Kirigakure Saizo). Released by Daiei in 1964, the movie stars fan favorite Ichikawa Raizo in one of his most popular series. This time around, instead of portraying ninja/thief Ishikawa Goemon (whose character is currently being featured in a big budget Japanese film, Goemon) he’s taking the field as an agent of the Sanada clan, Kirigakure (‘Mist’) Saizo. Different character or not, the ninja action lives on. Also along for the ride is Wakayama Tomisaburo of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ fame (here billed as Jo Kenzaburo) as clan leader Sanada Yukimura. This illustrates one of the more interesting features of the Shinobi No Mono series-the characters change, but the stars remain the same. Wakayama played sadistic warlord Oda Nobunaga (Goemon’s arch enemy) in the first two films, but here plays the man Raizo’s new character is protecting. You’ll see this pattern repeated throughout the cast-genre favorite Date Saburo, who played Hattori Hanzo in the Goemon part of the trilogy, appears here as a different character as do several other actors. Isomura Midori plays Saizo’s love interest in the film, Lady Akane-if you watched the first three films in the series, you’ll know This Will Not End Well.

The film begins with the Winter Siege of Osaka in 1614. The forces of the Shogunate under Tokugawa Ieyasu have been unable to penetrate the main compound of the Toyotomi’s Osaka castle thanks to the spirited defense being led by Sanada Yukimura. However, Ieyasu realizes that the direct approach is not always the most effective. He begins an artillery bombardment of the main keep meant to frighten Yodo (the mother of Toyotomi clan leader Hideyori) into pressing her son to sue for peace. In order to do this and to keep the pressure on the castle, Ieyasu sends forces to take the outlying defensive works. Yukimura’s son Daisuke finds his fort under assault in one of these raids, and is forced to abandon his position. Here’s where Saizo enters the fray, swinging into action on a rope and coming off a lot like Batman or Spider-Man. He’s ordered by Daisuke to rescue a group of women hiding in a nearby storehouse, but is unable to save them all from the Tokugawa forces (who seem more interested in taking the women as prizes than fighting). Meanwhile, Ieyasu’s plan has worked and an uneasy peace treaty is negotiated.

Saizo is ordered by Yukimura to travel to Edo and keep an eye on the movements and actions of Ieyasu and the Shogunate. He’s immediately spotted by Shogunate ninja and in the process of escaping them, comes across Lady Akane (one of the women he failed to save back in Osaka). She had been raped by several of Ieyasu’s men and in despair resigned herself to becoming a prostitute. She saves him from discovery by enemy ninja, after which she aids Saizo in his mission of gathering information. After many skirmishes with the Tokugawa ninja, the Sanada shinobi confirm that Ieyasu does indeed plan to launch another attack against the weakened Osaka castle (the moats have all been filled in as part of the peace treaty). Yukimura orders an assassination attempt on Ieyasu and departs for Osaka. The attempt fails and the Sanada ninja commits suicide before he can be captured. Saizo returns to Edo castle to give it another try, and is duped by Ieyasu and kills the wrong man. Saizo is captured and thrown into what amounts to a deep, dry well. Akane (who really gets put through the wringer in this movie) is also captured by the Shogunate and drugged. In her delirious state she gives up the location of Saizo’s confederates, who are also captured and killed. Saizo is kept alive, since Ieyasu hopes to extract Yukimura’s location from him. Saizo, however, ‘dies’ and is buried by the Shogunate. When Akane comes to pay her respects, he emerges from the grave (good thing he wasn't cremated)-it turns out he had fooled Ieyasu’s men by using a ninja technique that slowed his breathing and allowed him to appear deceased. Or were they fooled? It turns out he was allowed to escape, with Ieyasu’s ninja following him-straight to their target. Yukimura is killed by a Shogunate sharpshooter and the Tokugawa ninja return in triumph to Ieyasu.

But all is not as it seems. There’re plenty more twists and turns before the final battle of Toyotomi and Tokugawa in the Osaka Summer Campaign. Will Saizo manage to reverse the course of history and put himself on the winning side? Does he go down with the ship? Or will he listen to Akane, say ‘to hell with it all’, and save both her and himself?

The film is letterboxed and the transfer is great. The black and white photography lends itself well to the somber and depressing tone of the film. At times the viewer might think he’s stumbled into one of Toho’s Godzilla films-the music is by Ifukube Akira (noted for his scores on the Godzilla films), and there are sequences featuring realistic castle miniatures being blown apart by artillery fire. The effects range from excellent (the miniatures and explosions) to rather cheesy (such as several blatant dummies, and the flying ninja used in the title sequence). The genre pros of the cast deliver solid performances, with Raizo in particularly fine form as the alternately invincible and vulnerable Saizo. Unlike many films, the heavy (Ieyasu) is shown to outwit, outthink, and outperform the hero at every turn-even alone and unarmed, he’s able to escape assassination at Saizo’s hand. Saizo himself commits several huge blunders in the course of the film, making him fallible and keeping him from becoming the ‘all-powerful ninja’ stereotype. Not only does this give the film a realistic, unpredictable scenario and make Saizo a sympathetic character but also masterfully sets up the next few installments of the series. The film belies its modest budget, with a large cast, elaborate sets, and well choreographed battlefield scenes. Animeigo’s translation and subtitling is top notch, and further gives the viewer subtitle options ranging from none to notes to the full gamut-you even have a choice of subtitle colors.

Many chanbara films don’t require any historical knowledge to comprehend the goings-on, but Shinobi No Mono 4 will make a lot more sense and be more enjoyable for the viewer if they go in with some familiarity with the situation in Japan during 1615. As is usually the case, Animeigo’s extras for the disc have that aspect covered nicely. An interactive map of Japan shows the locations where all of the action takes place (and sometimes spots that are only mentioned) and gives background information for each. The historical notes for the program go into a huge amount of detail for a DVD, going so far as to reproduce the kanji written on the infamous bell that gave Ieyasu his excuse for attacking the Toyotomi. They’re very well done, and the occasional lapses are quite minor-falling into the ‘hair splitting’ category or simple typos (such as when the date for Aki province becoming part of Hiroshima prefecture is given as 1817 instead of 1871). The only glaring mistake is that the program states Kirigakure Saizo is an historical figure when it’s well established he was an invention of the Meiji era ‘Sanada Juyushi’ novels. Otherwise, the notes give you a good history lesson along with your ninja action. Other DVD extras include a still gallery (including some very interesting posed publicity shots) and the film’s original trailer. Also included is a trailer for the long awaited DVD release of another classic Ichikawa series-Nemuri Kyoshiro (released as ‘Sleepy Eyes of Death’ on US video). The first four Nemuri films will soon be released as a boxed set, and if they’re anything like the trailer, will look gorgeous. Time to replace those old VHS copies…

Whether you’re a Raizo fan, a ninja movie aficionado, a chanbara hound, or a history buff, Shinobi No Mono 4: Siege delivers the goods. The blend of ninja ‘skullduggery’ (as it’s called on the DVD box) with traditional samurai action gives the film an engaging blend of all-out action and stealth. While the DVD has an official street date of June 2nd, you can get it now directly from Animeigo or preorder it from Amazon through the Samurai Archives store here.


Last edited by Tatsunoshi on Mon Aug 04, 2014 10:19 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


Sleepy Eyes of Death Collector's Set Vol. 1


On Sale Now at Animeigo
Official Street Date: July 14, 2009


NEMURI Kyoshiro, the half-breed son of a Japanese noblewoman raped by a Christian missionary, lives only for the moment, amused by the chaos that surrounds him. But those who decide to use him for their own ends soon discover that they have made a fatal error! For Kyoshiro wields the fabled Musou-Masamune blade, and is master of the most subtle and deadly technique in all of swordplay, the Full-Moon-Cut. All those who challenge him must face... The Sleepy Eyes of Death!

Sleepy Eyes of Death is one of the longest-running (12 films) and best-loved samurai series of all time. Raizo Ichikawa (who sadly died at the age of 37) masterfully portrays Nemuri Kyoshiro, "the son of the Black Mass," a warrior in search of a perfect death, driven by his disdain of Christianity and of the society in which he lives.



Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade (Nemuri Kyoshiro Sappocho) - 82 minutes

Kyoshiro gets trapped in the middle of a conspiracy between a corrupt Daimyo and a notorious smuggler. After slicing through hordes of ninja spies and ronin henchmen, Kyoshiro must face an ultimate showdown with Chen Sun, a mysterious monk who is master of unarmed martial arts, and recover a precious statue that everyone wants.




Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure (Nemuri Kyoshiro Shobu) - 83 minutes

The Shogun's Finance Commissioner gets marked for death when he cuts the spending of a spoiled princess. As the Commissioner's new friend and unofficial bodyguard, Kyoshiro has to contend with all the assassins a princess' allowance can buy!



Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing (Nemuri Kyoshiro Engetsugiri) - 86 minutes

A mysterious slaying in a peasant village attracts Kyoshiro's attention and brings him into conflict with Takayuki, one of the Shogun's many illegitimate children. Kyoshiro has the dual task of befriending the villagers, who want him dead, and stop the rampaging Takayuki and his minions -- who also want him dead.



Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword of Seduction (Nemuri Kyoshiro Joyoken) - 81 minutes

Secrets of Kyoshiro's mysterious past begin to emerge when an old fugitive Christian and a sadistic drug-addled princess both have their eyes on him. And to make matters worse, a group of smugglers want him dead, and an old nemesis, the pugilistic monk, Chen Sun, has chosen a very inconvenient time to reappear!

Extra Features:
* Collector's booklet packed with images, historical notes, reviews, bios, and more!
* Audio Commentary by film scholar Ric Meyers & author/martial arts expert, Jeff Rovin
* Interactive Map of Japan
* Theatrical Trailers
* Program Notes
* Cast & Crew Bios
* Image Galleries

Copyright: ©1963-1964 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.
Warning: Contains Violence, Nudity & Nihilism

Look for the SA's review on this DVD set featuring Raizo in his signature role on the Shogun-ki in the next couple of weeks.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
The Reawakening Of "Sleepy Eyes Of Death"
Years ago, I remember buying my first film on VHS from Animeigo/Samurai Cinema-I believe it was Mifune’s “Samurai Banners”. After the film finished, there were three previews for other samurai-related films released by Animeigo. These were three of the most outrageous and violent films that my burgeoning interest in jidaigeki had seen-the first was a “Lone Wolf And Cub” film and the second featured what’s still one of my favorite action sequences from the “Hanzo The Razor” series (where assassins break into Hanzo’s booby-trapped house while he’s lounging in his bathtub with a Buddhist nun). The third showcased a badass samurai who effortlessly dispatched a dozen ninja or so before polishing off their leader with something he called the “Full Moon Cut”. I have a feeling this set of three previews (which ran with almost all of Animeigo’s releases) achieved a certain status of their own with fans of the genre, and in my case told me that Samurai Cinema was run by my kind of people. I was more than a little disappointed when I found out that only the Lone Wolf films were still available and the other two were nigh on impossible to find and outrageously pricy when you did. Still, I managed to put together the Hanzo trilogy with two VHS’s and a Laser Disc, but the other series-“Sleepy Eyes of Death”-proved to be much harder. It took years to find five of the six releases on original VHS, and I never did run across a copy of the sixth. Thankfully, Animeigo reacquired the license and has re-released the first four films in the “Sleepy Eyes of Death/Nemuri Kyoshiro” series in a well done DVD boxed set.

“Sleepy Eyes” star Ishikawa Raizo packed a lot of films into a relatively short career before his untimely death at the age of 37, and most fans of jidaigeki agree that his signature character was Nemuri Kyoshiro, “Son of the Black Mass”-the bitter half-breed ronin and master of the Full Moon Cut. Based on a series of novels by Shibata Renzaburo, the series was to span 14 films (the last two featuring a new actor who took over after Ishikawa’s death) and became increasingly bizarre, bloody, and violent as it went.

The four discs in the set (originally released in 1963 and 1964) are as follows:

“The Chinese Jade”-the first entry in the series is based on actual history involving an infamous merchant/smuggler in the Maeda domain of Kaga, one Zeniya Gohei. Here, Zeniya has been executed by Lord Maeda in order to cover up the clan's involvement in a profitable smuggling ring-and to confiscate Zeniya’s gold in the process. However, as luck would have it, Zeniya’s not quite dead yet-and both he and Maeda vie to recruit master swordsman Nemuri Kyoshiro. Up for grabs is the Chinese Jade, a statue hidden by Zeniya that contains a document that would spell doom for the Maeda clan were it to find its way into the hands of the Shogunate. Very little of Kyoshiro’s background is examined here, aside from a short segment involving his training. It seems the film is trying to set Kyoshiro up as an avenger of the common man and a noble ronin, complete with a support group of thieves, yakuza, and his sensei (all of whom were dropped after this film). Cast notables include Wakiyama Tomisaburo as Zeniya’s monkish enforcer, Chen Sun, and Date Saburo (who appears in three of the four of the films in the set as different characters) as Zeniya. While the film features excellent swordplay, plenty of dying ninja, gorgeous gals, an involving story, and Raizo’s cool yet intense performance, it has been criticized for humanizing the ‘nihilistic’ Kyoshiro too much, particularly the ending. We disagree-having always seen Kyoshiro as an idealist at heart, and like most idealists he becomes increasingly bitter, skeptical, and resentful as the majority of the people he runs across fall short of his expectations. It’s interesting to follow the progress of this characterization through the series as Kyoshiro becomes more and more hardened, raping innocents, and eventually killing people with no provocation-even unarmed women. Through it all, the spark of idealism still remains-there are moments in most of his films where a good and decent person will bring a moment of joy to him, or give him a reason to fight for them. This inner conflict gives expression to some of the cooler lines uttered in jidaigeki flicks, including my personal favorite from part nine: “The last person he saw in this world was me. What an unlucky man he was”.


“Sword of Adventure” introduces a theme that will run throughout much of the series-the spoiled bastard children of Shogun Ienari. The plot involves the efforts of the Shogunate’s elderly finance minister, Asahina Iori, to reform the currency system and put a stop to the elaborate expenditures of the Shogun’s court (this, too, is based on actual history). Naturally, he falls afoul of the corrupt ministers who have been profiting all along-but his biggest enemy turns out to be Princess Taka, whose huge annual stipend has been cut through Asahina’s action. Kyoshiro takes a liking to the old man and becomes his defacto bodyguard. Before the final resolution there are deceitful women, poison, ambushes, a rigged duel with a foe who might be Kyoshiro’s superior, and five master swordsmen he must overcome. We actually found old man Iori to be much more entertaining to watch than Kyoshiro, and the developing friendship between the two engaging.

“Full Circle Killing” introduces another of Ienari’s bastards, Katagiri Takayuki, whose supporters and mother have been killing off the Shogun’s legitimate heirs in order to leave him in position to inherit the Shogunate. Katagiri is a violent psycho who has been installed with a twisted version of Bushido by his mother-he enjoys testing out his collection of rare swords by killing peasants in a slum on the outskirts of Edo. Kyoshiro becomes involved when he wanders by the scene of one of the slayings, and further drawn in when Katagiri covets his exquisite Musou Masamune blade. Between protecting the villagers, keeping them from implementing their own ineffectual plans for revenge, and retaining the Musou Masamune, Kyoshiro has his hands full. An interesting moment here is when Kyoshiro explains the style of the Full Moon Cut, ending with the familiar boast that “…no opponent has ever lived to see the circle completed”.

The last film in the set, "Sword of Seduction", takes the series to new extremes-both storywise and in a visual sense. Kyoshiro is approached by a Christian on the run and beseeched to guard their saint, "The Virgin Shima" (who may or may not have familial ties to Kyoshiro). While Kyoshiro refuses, he goes to the man's aid after he is captured and being prepared for crucifixion. The Christian's sister has won his freedom (by 'converting' a Western missionary to Buddhism by seducing him), but not only has the Shogunate not honored their promise to free him but the depraved and disfigured Princess Kiku (another of Shogun Ienari's bastards) has arranged for her to be gang raped in front of her brother at the execution grounds. While Kyoshiro is unable to save the two, he manages to disrupt Kiku's 'entertainment' and send her scurrying back to Edo castle. Kyoshiro sets out to find the Virgin Shima, and while on the road faces an incredible series of ambushes, seductions, ninja assaults, and betrayals. Some of the most impressive set pieces to be found in the series are on display, and after further humiliating Princess Kiku (destroying her without killing her), Kyoshiro finds the Virgin Shima and confronts the group of opium smugglers that have been working with Kiku-including his monkish nemesis from part one, Chen Sun. After this final battle, Kyoshiro learns the truth behind the circumstances of his birth-a revelation that was to have a major influence on the further films in the series. This film not only has a glorious progression of well thought out action scenes, but also some of the more impressive "WTF??" moments in the Nemuri saga. One of these would be Chen Sun breaking off the ending battle to jump overboard for no reason in particular. Perhaps the most impressive one, however, occurs when the Western missionary has been released from prison after having been 'converted' to Buddhism. Kyoshiro comes galloping into the frame astride a horse and brandishing a sword, screams out "Go to Hell!", and sends the fallen Christian's head rolling (many critics seem to think that this was Kyoshiro's father-however, the evidence within the film points to this not being the case, not to mention the two are played by different actors). Perhaps the most impressive innovation is how the "Full Moon Cut" is now filmed in time lapse photography-adding a new dimension to its alleged hypnotic effect and giving it a supernatural feel. This film is a turning point in the series-it is from here that Kyoshiro's dark side really begins to take hold, and the succeeding films were to become increasingly violent and twisted. While Kyoshiro claims in the final Raizo installment (part 12, Castle Menagerie) that he has never killed someone who has not attacked him first, he seems to conveniently forget his victims such as the aforementioned missionary and an unarmed nun he slaughters at the end of the film.

All four of the films in the set are winners, and get stronger with each installment. They all feature the excellent set design and costuming that one sees in virtually every jidaigeki film of the 60's, along with solid cinematography and soundtracks. The casts are loaded with chambara veterans from Daei studios and packed with starlets to boot. Having all four in the same package makes for interesting viewing as one follows the progression of Kyoshiro's character-from a rather normal 'justice seeking noble ronin' in part one to the heartless killer of part four. It's rare to see a chambara hero that goes from shouting at the heavens over the loss of the one precious thing in life (when Chisa is killed at the end of part one) to proclaiming that women are nothing more than sex objects. Likewise, he has little sense of duty or obligation-rare in a genre where the conflict of duty versus self comprise the engine that runs many plots. Unarmed missionaries and nuns fall to his blade and innocent women are raped by him. Kyoshiro was the forebearer of the even more extreme antiheroes of the 70's in the "Lone Wolf" and "Hanzo the Razor" films.

Animeigo's packaging for the box set is striking with a black and white image of Kyoshiro in the middle of performing the Full Moon Cut set against a blood red background. The four discs are arranged in a gatefold sleeve decorated with images from the series with a booklet taking up one section of the sleeve. As for the DVD’s, the color and picture quality are sharp and the soundtracks have no audible hissing or popping. Subtitling is excellent and the translation is good-although one of my favorite lines, the infamous “I love you, man!” from part III was changed for the current release.

Each disc contains various extras that not only feature production stills, trailers, and cast/crew bios but also help explain the intricacies of Japanese culture and history as portrayed in the films. There’s much less history to be explained in the Sleepy Eyes series than in, say, the Shinobi No Mono films, so the program notes focus on Japanese culture. The presentation is largely accurate with a few typos and minor errors (such as stating that Kawanakajima is located in Echigo province). Each one of the discs has an interactive map spotlighting the locations used or talked about in the film along with more historical notes. Ric Meyers provides a commentary on the first disc that covers the first four films as a whole and is joined by author/martial artist Jeff Rovin. Meyers was responsible for one of the worst film commentary tracks we’ve heard on Animeigo’s Shinobi No Mono 2 disc, but here (and also on the commentary he provided for the “Shogun Assassin” boxed set) he’s actually quite good. Sticking to movie trivia and cinema history, he provides quite a bit of useful information on the stars, the studios, and the film series as a whole. And even though he STILL mangles the Japanese language, he’s at least getting better in this regard too. Hey, he’s trying! There are color and b/w stills for each film in the series and cast/crew bios unique and specific for each (rather than just running Raizo’s bio for every one). Each disc has five trailers-usually for the current and next films in the Nemuri series, one for a Shinobi No Mono entry, and two other Animeigo releases that the director of the current film also helmed. One of the discs even shows a gallery of the packaging Animeigo used for their ‘Sleepy Eyes’ VHS and Laserdisc releases. There’s also a booklet included that gives a general outline of the series, some background on the Edo period, and a history of Christianity in Japan during this time. Finishing it out are a couple of reviews taken from Pat Galloway’s “Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves” along with some other cast and crew information including Raizo.

Whether you’re replacing those worn-out VHS copies or taking your first steps into the Nemuri Kyoshiro saga, this DVD set fits the bill perfectly. Hopefully Animeigo will be releasing the next four films (that have recently been remastered in Japan) at some point. No samurai film collection is complete without the “Sleepy Eyes” films, so get the set now-before it goes the way of those ninja in that long-ago trailer…

You can get the Sleepy Eyes of Death Vol. I Box Set (the first four films) directly from Animeigo here or from Amazon through the SA Store here.
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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
The Samurai I Loved

On Sale Now at AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: August 11, 2009

Haunted by memories of his lost childhood love, a young samurai (Somegoro ICHIKAWA) strives to transcend his troubled past, but ends up ensnared by the same conspirators who cost his father his life -- and ordered to kill the child of the woman he loves, but can never hold.

A beautifully-shot mix of romance and action, The Samurai I Loved is another award-winning adaptation from Shuhei Fujisawa (Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade), sure to appeal to both male and female audiences alike.

Extra Features:
*Interview with the Director
*Image Gallery
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Program Notes
*Theatrical Trailers

Technical Details:
UPC# 7-37187-01225-9
ISBN# 1-56567-526-6
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 131 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese 5.1 Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 2005
Suggested Rating: 13+

Copyright: ©2005 Semishigure Production Committee

Warning: Contains Violence

Look for the SA's Review of "The Samurai I Loved" here and on the Shogun-ki in about a week or so.


Last edited by Tatsunoshi on Fri Aug 14, 2009 3:20 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2009 3:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


The Sweet Serenade Of The Cicada-Animeigo's "The Samurai I Loved"

"The Samurai I Loved”, the newest DVD release from Animeigo, sounded at first like it would be a chick flick that featured Brick McBurly in the starring role. Judging from the list of awards (most notably several ‘Best Actor’ awards for ‘older Bunshiro’ actor Ichikawa Somegoro) and nominations (being nominated for 11 categories, including Best Film, by the Japanese Academy in 2006) the film received, however, this indicated that the movie would be far more than that-which turned out to be the case. It’s a first rate film with an engaging story, great performances, outstanding cinematography, and some more-realistic-than-usual swordplay for the chanbara fans out there. Released as “Semishigure” (“Outburst Of Cicadas”) in 2005, the film was based on a story by Fujisawa Shuhei. The name might be familiar-Shuhei was an outstanding writer of historical fiction and three of his films were turned into the so-called ‘Samurai Trilogy’ by director Yamada Yoji-“Twilight Samurai”, “The Hidden Blade”, and “Love and Honor”. The director was different for this film (Kurotsuchi Mitsuo), but the results were similar-a film with heart and feeling that is much more realistic than the average jidai-geki effort, and that does a fine job humanizing the often-glorified image of the samurai.

The film begins with young samurai Maki Bunshiro taking his morning trip to the stream behind his house to wash up. There he meets his new neighbor, Fuku. Fuku is almost immediately afterwards bitten on the finger by a snake. Although the snake is relatively harmless, Bunshiro sucks the venom from her finger just to be safe. Fuku becomes enamored of the older Bunshiro, who of course being a young boy is oblivious to this fact. This is followed up by establishing Bunshiro’s relationships with his two best friends, Ippei and the more scholarly Yonosuke. Much of Bunshiro’s and Ippei’s time is spent helping out Yonosuke when he’s assaulted by bullies, and indeed it’s this very thing that interrupts Fuku’s first hesitant attempts to convey her affection for Bunshiro when the two attend a village festival together.

Bunshiro’s father, Sukezaemon, is a member of the Fushingumi-a group of samurai, farmers, and townspeople that work on civil engineering projects. He’s quite popular among the commoners for his compassion, having at one point saved many of their farms from destruction by refusing to take the easy way out during a flood (by not destroying a dyke to divert the water flow near their homes-he instead does it in a remote but riskier location where he ends up saving Bunshiro from being swept away by the flood). However, this counts for nothing when Sukezaemon finds himself on the losing side during a power struggle in the fictional fief of Unasaka. Sukezaemon is sentenced to commit seppuku, and in an awkward meeting with his son, tells him that he has no regrets-that he has done what he saw as being right. Afterwards, Bunshiro is filled with regret that he was unable to put into words all that he had wanted to say to his father. During the hottest day of the summer (with the cicadas in full shrill), Bunshiro is forced to recover his father’s body in broad daylight and is humiliated by having to transport it in full view of the crowds in the village. Even worse, the exhausted Bunshiro finds himself unable to drag the cart up a steep hill near the end of his journey. Despite being forbidden to see Bunshiro again (as his family is now branded as traitors), Fuku comes across him and wastes no time in lending her aid. Together, the pair manages to make it to the top of the hill-and the bond between them is cemented for good.

Bunshiro and his mother are sent by the han officials to live in a rundown house in the city where he and Fuku are separated-and soon, the girl is sent to Edo to become a maid for the Lord. When Bunshiro is summoned to the home of Chief Retainer Sanai Satomura (the man who headed the winning faction in the power struggle and had Sukezaemon put to death), he fears the worst-seppuku for himself and the abolishment of the Maki family. Instead, he is reinstated and given a position as a village inspector. Now an adult, he settles into his new position. Being skilled with the sword, he takes part in sword competitions. During one of these he is soundly defeated by one Inukai Hyoma and his seemingly supernatural 'sword of madness' technique, which puts Hyoma in every position but where his opponent believes he is. Returning home, Bunshiro is reunited with Yonosuke, who brings disturbing news-Bunshiro’s childhood friend Fuku is now the concubine of the han’s Lord, and has borne his child. However, there’s a problem-a competing faction doesn’t want her son to be considered as a possible heir to the current Lord, and is looking to have her and her son killed. Fuku has been moved to a remote village and is being guarded by several of the Lord’s retainers.

One day Bunshiro is summoned to Satomura's home and is ordered by him to go to Fuku’s retreat and take custody of the child. This puts Bunshiro in the position of having to rebel against the man who had his family reinstated, or to do the wrong thing and kidnap the son of his childhood sweetheart (who he still has strong feelings for). It’s the classic ‘duty’ vs. ‘self’ conflict that drives many samurai films, but rarely realized so elegantly. Bunshiro resolves to take a route that will fulfill his obligations to both and not fall into Satomura's trap. He sets forth with his friends Ippei and Yonosuke to put his plan into action. What follows provides plenty of excitement, suspense, and enough swordplay to satisfy any chanbara head. Bunshiro probably sets a record for most swords used up during a single scene, as he discards one after another as they lose their edge to clotted blood (choosing from a forest of swords he had earlier planted in tatami mats). And the story wouldn't be complete if he didn't face Inukai Hyoma and his 'sword of madness'-this time for real. As in any Japanese film, a happy ending is not a given-will both Fuku and her son survive? How about Bunshiro? Will Satomura pay for his crimes against the Maki? Do the childhood sweethearts pick up where they left off? The answers are surprising and are best experienced for yourself, so we won’t divulge them here.

We found the cinematography to be exceptional in this movie, with many shots that are masterpieces of composition. While the film moves slowly compared to most Western films (a feature it shares with many Japanese movies), this helps to give a sense of the passage of time within the story and convey a unique Japanese ascetic. The shots of the changing seasons with snow, cherry blossoms, and the omnipresent cicadas heralding the heat of summer do much the same thing. There’s a lot of symbolism, as in the close-up of a dead cicada shadowing Sukezaemon’s seppuku. It all provides a beautiful background for the story to play out against. As evidenced by Ichikawa’s “Best Actor” awards, the performances are excellent from top to bottom. The film’s story lends itself to an emotional response from the audience, always creating the danger of lapsing into melodrama. However, the actors do a masterful job of showing emotion in a low key and understated (yet completely sincere and convincing) way. Fuku’s and Bunshiro’s conversation near the end of the film will be felt in the hearts of anyone who has ‘let someone get away’. The film is, in effect, being played by two sets of actors-a younger cast for the childhood versions in the film’s first hour and an older cast for the adult versions in the last half. Both sets are outstanding and the transition is quite seamless (except when not meant to be, as in Fuku’s transition from ‘maid’ to ‘maiden’). As with most Japanese movies, the ending is realistic and bittersweet. About the only thing that didn’t ring true was Bunshiro’s final confrontation with Satomura-while we don’t want to spoil what delivers admittedly substantial dramatic impact, it’s tough to imagine things actually playing out that way. Animeigo again provides an excellent translation and the best subtitling in the business, and both sound and picture transfer are outstanding.

Extras for the DVD comprise the standard Animeigo lineup, headed up by the program notes. Since the story is largely fictional, these tend to explain much of the symbolism in the film (including what the original title of Semishigure would mean to a Japanese audience) and why certain things were put in the film that weren’t in the book. There’s much more culture than history this time around and even a bit of a biology lesson on the snake that bites Fuku early in the film. There are several different trailers for the film, a cast and crew bio section, a very large image gallery that probably includes all of the images on the film’s electronic press kit, and a trailer for Ashura (which also featured the star of “The Samurai I Loved”, Ichikawa Somegoro). There’s also a subtitled interview with director Kurotsuchi. If you’re familiar with the promo interviews Japanese directors (and for that matter, actors) usually give you’ll know what to expect-Kurotsuchi gushes over his great cast, great locations, great crew, great script, but says very little of substance. All in all, the extras do an adequate job of providing background for the film.

It’s a shame that a fine film like “The Samurai I Loved” has such a clichéd and “B-Movie” title. It’s well known in the publishing and video industries that including the word ‘samurai’ in a title for a Western release is something pushed for by marketing bigwigs, but in this case I think Animeigo had little to do with that decision and that it was decreed by the licensor. In any case, the men in the audience shouldn’t let the title scare them away-and at the same time, it’s a great film to watch with your significant other. My wife Ayame was visiting from Japan and we watched it together. She was extremely touched and cried throughout the whole movie. Similarly, it’s a good film to show your skeptical friends who don’t understand your fascination with jidai-geki rather than the crap showing at the local multiplex. It’s your chance to take the artistic high ground! While it’s lighter on action than a standard chanbara film, when the fighting comes, it’s intense, well staged, and brutal-and made all the more dramatic by the feelings most viewers will have invested in the characters by that time. “The Samurai I Loved” gets our highest recommendation-the song of the cicadas has never sounded as good.

"The Samurai I Loved" is available directly from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 2:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
While these two movies aren't jidaigeki or chanbara, we'd thought we'd list them here anyway since they're seminal Japanese films and might be of interest to many of our readers. When they're reviewed, they'll be in the Japanese Entertainment forum. Following are Animeigo's press releases:

Available now directly from Animeigo is Black Rain:



Black Rain (“Kuroi Ame”)
Official Street Date: October 20, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Shizuma and their niece Yasuko make their way through the ruins of Hiroshima, devastated by the atomic bomb. Five years later, Yasuko is living with her aunt and uncle, and her senile grandmother, in a village containing many survivors of the bombing. Yasuko does not appear to be affected, but the Shizumas are worried about her marriage prospects, fearing that she might succumb to radiation sickness at any time.

Extra Features:

*Alternate 19-minute Color Ending
*Interview with Assistant Director Miike Takashi
*Interview with Actress Tanaka Yoshiko
*Theatrical Trailers
*Multimedia Vault
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Program Notes
*Image Gallery

Awards:
WINNER:
Technical Grand Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury - Cannes Film Festival
Best Foreign Film - Sant Jordi Awards
Grand Prix, George Delerue Prize - Flanders International Film Festival
Best Director, Best Film - Nikkan Sports Film Awards
Best Screenplay - Asia-Pacific Film Festival
Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Film,
Best Lighting, Best Music Score, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress - Japan Academy Prize
Best Actress - Blue Ribbon Awards
Best Actress - Hochi Film Awards
Best Actress, Best Director, Best Film - Kinema Junpo Awards
Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Film - Mainichi Film Concours

NOMINEE:
Palme d’Or - Cannes Film Festival
Best Art Direction, Best Sound - Asia-Pacific Film Festival
Best Foreign Film - Independent Spirit Awards

UPC# 7-37187-01152-8
ISBN# 1-56567-528-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 123 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1989

©1988 Imamura Productions

Warning: Contains Violence & Brief Nudity


Last edited by Tatsunoshi on Thu Nov 05, 2009 6:41 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 04, 2009 6:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tora-san Collector's Set
Vol. 1, Films 1-4
(“Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo”)
Official Street Date: November 24, 2009
Available directly from Animeigo

Tora-san is billed as "Japan's Most Beloved Loser" (at least before Brick McBurly showed up)!



Featuring ATSUMI Kiyoshi as the lovable loser KURUMA Torajiro, the 48-film Tora-san series holds the Guinness World Record for the longest running film series starring the same actor. In a typical story-line from the series, Tora-san visits a different part of Japan where he meets a beautiful young woman, and tells her if she ever needs help, she should come visit him in his small hometown of Shibamata. After returning home to his disapproving family, the damsel in distress shows up, and Tora-san falls in love. Alas, his attempts to help her, and win her heart, invariably cause her to fall for someone else! Included in the set are the first four films of the series, It's Tough being a Man (Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo), Tora-san's Cherished Mother (Zoku Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo), Tora-san, His Tender Love (Shin Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo), and Tora-san's Grand Scheme (Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo: Futen No Tora).

Extra Features:

*Audio Commentary by film historian Stuart Galbraith IV
*28-page booklet with essays and a reflection by director Yoji Yamada
*Program Notes
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Interactive Maps
*Theatrical Trailers
*Image Galleries

Awards:
WINNER:
Best Actor, Kiyoshi Atsumi - 1970 - Kinema Junpo Award
Best Actor, Kiyoshi Atsumi - 1970 - Mainichi Film Concours
Best Director, Yoji Yamada - 1970 - Mainichi Film Concours
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 3:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
After Tora-san and Black Rain, Animeigo returns to more familiar territory with Gosha Hideo's masterpiece, "Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather" starring Nakadai Tatsuya. We'll be reviewing it in the Japanese Entertainment forum soon.



Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather (“Kiryuin Hanako no shogai”)

On Sale Now At AnimEigo.com

Official Street Date: January 12, 2010

Synopsis:

Onimasa is the egocentric boss of a small yakuza (Japanese mafia) clan on Shikoku island, whose criminal duties conflict with his self-image as a chivalrous samurai. His struggles with his boss, the Shikoku Godfather, and the tumultuous life of his adopted daughter, Matsue, form the backdrop of this epic tale of justice, obedience, and bloody vengeance.

This film is considered in Japan to be Hideo Gosha's best-known film.

Extra Features:


*Program Notes
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Theatrical Trailers
*Image Galleries

Awards:

WINNER:
Best Actress, Masako Natsume - 1983 - Blue Ribbon Awards
Best Art Direction, Yoshinobu Nishioka - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy

NOMINEE:
Best Film - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Director, Hideo Gosha - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Actor, Tatsuya Nakadai - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Actress, Masako Natsume - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Cinematography, Fujio Morita - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Music Score, Mitsuaki Kanno - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Lighting, Yoshiaki Masuda - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Screenplay, Koji Takada - 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy
Best Sound, Kiyoshige Hirai- 1983 - Award of the Japanese Academy

Technical Details:


UPC# 7-37187-01409-3
ISBN# 1-56567-541-X
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 146 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1982
Suggested Rating: 18+

Copyright: ©1982 Toei Company, Ltd.

Warning: Contains violence, nudity, strong language.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 14, 2010 4:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


We'll be reviewing this one in the next week or so. Animeigo used the Samurai Archives for much of their program notes and also for a featured essay.

The Official Press Release:

"Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai
(“Bushidô Zankoku Monogatari”)

On Sale Now @ AnimEigo.com (or preorder through Amazon at the Samurai Archives Store)

Official Street Date: February 9, 2010

From acclaimed director Tadashi IMAI comes the film that won the Golden Bear Award (Best Film) at the 1963 Berlin Film Festival. For 350 years, the Iikura family have honored Bushido, the stern code of the Samurai, above all other considerations. Susumu, a modern-day Japanese professional, chronicles the shocking stories of his forefathers as he decides whether to break free from the bonds of an ancient code of honor, or take up the role that tradition has ordained for him.

Extra Features:

*Program Notes
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Theatrical Trailers
*Image Gallery
*Exclusive Essay on the Bushido Code from Randy Schadel of The Samurai Archives

Awards:
Winner of the Golden Bear Award at the 1963 Berlin International Film Festival
Winner of the Blue Ribbon Award at the 1964 Blue Ribbon Awards for Best Actor

Technical Details:

UPC# 7-37187-01419-2
ISBN# 1-56567-542-8
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 123 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1963
Suggested Rating: 18+
MSRP: $24.98

Copyright:

©1963 Toei Company, Ltd.

Warning: Contains violence
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 03, 2010 11:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


As evidenced by the recent post covering History Channel's "Samurai" special, one of the most frustrating and constant things we on the SA have to contend with are the misconceptions associated with Bushido. The idea that "All Samurai followed a chivalrous code of ethics known as 'Bushido' that emphasized honor, loyalty, and bravery unto death" has been branded onto the minds of many westerners from the time of Nitobe Inazo's book "Bushido: The Soul of Japan" to the hijinks of Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai". We usually refer to this as "Bullshido". Therefore, it's a real pleasure to review Animeigo's recent DVD release of 1963's "Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai" (Bushido Zankoku Monogatari). Finally, a film that eschews the glorification of a code that never was and shows the dark side of just what such a system would entail!

And dark it is, in spades. During the course of the film's 123 minutes, the viewer will bear witness to murder, executions, suicide (ranging from oibara/jushi to kamikaze), rape, filicide, castration, homosexual enslavement, insanity, humiliation, corporate espionage, fetishism, and all manner of cruelty-all committed in the name of Bushido. While there's nothing all that graphic in the film (with much of the violence relatively bloodless or implied), it maintains its power from beginning to end. Director Imai Tadashi's film won the 1963 Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear Award for Best Film along with garnering a Japanese Blue Ribbon Best Actor Award for star Nakamura Kinnosuke.

The film opens with Ikura Susumu rushing to the hospital to be with his fiancee Kyoko, who has overdosed on sleeping pills. Susumu berates himself for his as yet undisclosed indiscretion in the name of loyalty that has led to this. He muses over the family records he recently discovered at a local temple that make this incident only the latest in a long chain of tragedies brought on by a culture of total obedience. While waiting for Kyoko to emerge from her coma, he runs over them in his mind...





The first vignette opens in the Keicho era with Ikura Jirozaemon Hidekiyo, having been made a ronin after Sekigahara, being employed for his skill with the spear by clan minister Hori of the Yazaki of Shinshu (Shinano Province). Hidekiyo pledges his unswaying obedience and loyalty to his lord, even unto death-starting things out with a scene typical of most jidaigeki films. Years later, the clan is taking part in pacifying the 1638 Shimabara Rebellion. When a desperate night attack is launched by the peasants against the camp of the Yazaki, the clan's lack of vigilance results in not only their buildings being destroyed by fire but also the neighboring camp of Lord Kuroda. Although Hidekiyo's spearmanship ended the assault, amends must be made to the Shogun-but what must be done?



Moving to later in the Kanei era, the action picks up with Hidekiyo's son, Sajiemon, who is a page to the old lord. Sajiemon is placed under house arrest when he offends the lord by suggesting the clan doctor be summoned when the old man falls ill. The lord moves closer and closer to death, but shows no sign of forgiving Sajiemon, placing the future of the Ikura clan in jeopardy. The fate of his wife Yasu and son Kyunosuke hangs in the balance. How to prove his loyalty to the clan and ensure that the Ikura are not once again turned out as ronin?



While the first two stories are certainly tragic enough, things begin to get REALLY nasty in the third. Here in the Genroku era, Ikura Kyutaro Tomoyuki has succeeded Sajiemon's son Masanoshin as head of the clan. He's a young student in the clan's Shoheizaka Academy who catches the eye of his lecherous lord Tanba-no-kami when he arrives to present birthday wishes. Kyutaro is ordered to report to the lord and begins to feel a growing sense of dread when one of the Lord's concubines, Lady Hagi, complains that the Lord always sends his 'pretty boys' to her to prepare. In no time at all, Kyutaro has been rudely initiated into the ways of Shudo (here referring to homosexual relations among samurai, usually between an older powerful man and a younger one of less status). While this wasn't an uncommon situation in medieval Japan and was quite acceptable by the standards of the day, it comes across strongly as enslavement and rape here (since Kyutaro isn't what you would call a willing participant, only being cowed when Tanba-no-kami tells him it's just another way to 'show your loyalty'). Things get even sleazier as the Lord 'gifts' Kyutaro with his discarded clothing-ranging from a kimono to a vest and eventually his underwear. Again, this would indeed be considered an honor by the standards of the day, but tends to leave modern audiences a bit sickened. The Lord also seems to enjoy a bit of s & m with his lovemaking, inflicting a painful bite on Kyutaro and warning him to stay away from women. Seemingly resigned to his fate, Kyutaro's world get even worse when the Lord manipulates him into being alone with Lady Hagi with rather predictable results-and the denouement to this episode will leave every male in the audience cringing and grimacing.





Now comes the most twisted and disturbing story of all-that of Shuzo, head of the Ikura family in the Tenmei era. Shuzo is the clan's most skilled swordsman and master of the "great sword of darkness", a technique that allows him to strike effectively while blindfolded. He has a seemingly wonderful life with his son Jujiro, daughter Sato, wife Maki, and friend and future son-in-law Kazuma. Although he saves his lord's life by striking down a peasant that attempts to assassinate him, Shuzo is subjected to a mind-numbing litany of injustice and humiliation at the hands of an intensely sadistic, warped, and sexually charged daimyo. This is the film's dramatic high point, and Imai pulls out all the stops. Having lost several members of his family to the lord's depravity, Shuzo is given a chance to have his 'crime' of finally getting the courage to remonstrate the lord forgiven. All he has to do is use the 'great sword of darkness' to execute two criminals. What follows is one of the most disturbing tableaus in samurai cinema, with Shuzo becoming an utterly pathetic and broken man.

Following this is an incident in the Meiji era where Ikura Shingo, a rickshaw driver and student studying for the Japanese bar, takes into his household the dispossessed, feeble minded final lord of the clan. Shingo hopes that if the lord recovers, the Emperor will make the lord part of the aristocracy, increasing the prospects for Shingo's career. However, it looks like the only thing the lord seems interested in is Shingo's fiancee Fuji. How Shingo reacts to this is possibly the most troubling scene in the film.



The sixth story is a short one, showing Susumu's older brother Osamu, a pilot in the 3rd Mitate Squad in World War II. Time is running out for Japanese forces as the Americans close in on the home islands-and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see what this will mean for Osamu.

Finally, the film comes full circle and returns to Susumu. We learn that under pressure from his boss, he has asked his fiancee Kyoko (a typist at a competing firm) to steal a budget estimate for a major construction project. Despite having misgivings (her boss is a longtime friend of her family and has treated her well), she does so and for her efforts is asked by Susumu to delay their marriage. After all, it might raise questions about how his company beat out hers for the bid. Feeling used and abandoned, she attempts suicide. Will Susumu be the Ikura that breaks the cycle of blind obedience to an uncaring 'overlord', or will he continue to be the steadfast company man?

This is a film that carries the stamp of Director Imai from start to finish. Imai was a confirmed Marxist (except for a period during WWII where the government forced him to make propaganda films), and the 'class struggle' of Marxism is reflected not only in the virtual enslavement of the Ikura but also in the hardships and punishments handed out to farmers (being sentenced to death by bamboo saw for the crime of appealing to a minister). Imai infuses each episode with a healthy dose of melodrama, concocting scenarios so extreme that they sometimes seem more like a nightmare than something that was really happening. Imai's skills in telling the story makes it all seem natural and believable. Taking this approach clearly spells out the abuses that would have flourished under a system run under the auspices of Bushido. This is symbolically shown when the body of a character who has been backed into committing suicide is 'honored' by having a flag bearing the mon of the Tokugawa Shogun draped over his body. When loyalty is expected to be absolute, there are no recourses for those at the bottom. Any action, however innocent, can be deemed a crime by those in power. In the early 60's, this would have found an audience ready for the film's message. Japanese film in general and jidaigeki in particular were beginning to embrace fare that questioned traditional values, leading to heroes who fought the injustices of a rigid class-structured society (such as Nemuri Kyoshiro or Zatoichi). About the only complaint we had with the film is that the high point comes too early-after the episode involving Shuzo, everything else seems somewhat anti-climatic, albeit effective.

It would also seem Imai is something of a feminist. The female characters in the film are almost to a fault stronger than the men, refusing to kowtow to the whims of a warped lord and embodying the true spirit of honor. At one juncture Fuji seemingly points this out, asking Shingo 'What kind of a man are you?'. As a group, they function as the film's spiritual center and grounding, acting as a foil to the actions of the men. Even the seemingly weak and suicidal Kyoko succeeds in driving home her point to Susumu.

Star Kinnosuke, who turned in dozens of excellent samurai roles, is often overshadowed by the better known stars such as Mifune, Nakadai, Katsu, or Ichikawa, but has the role of a lifetime here. He plays all seven scions of the Ikura shown in the film, and one role even has a 'middle aged' and 'old' version. He's completely believable in every role and each character is differentiated. Hidekiyo is a grizzled war vet who takes a practical approach to everything. Kyutaro is a young 'pretty boy' who, after being defiled, croons to his lord in a high pitched falsetto. Shuzo does a 'Nakadai'-moving from brutally efficient middle-aged swordsman to a wasted shell of a man, aged well beyond his years. Shingo could be the know-it-all college kid next door. Many actors are praised for their range, but few have over the course of their career managed to show convincingly the range that Kinnosuke shows in just this one film. He deserves more attention among jidaigeki fans, and looks like he'll be getting it in Animeigo's upcoming "Musashi' boxed set.

Interestingly enough, the film comes across at times as being part of the Japanese horror tradition. This is reflected in Mayuzumi Toshiro's score, early on using a harpsichord to produce a jarring and unnerving mood. Other parts of the score sound much like the music used for other contemporary kaidan rather than that used for jidaigeki. The lighting and cinematography also tend to give characters that 'horror movie', shadowed look. A scene where a character makes an impossible request of his lover is foreshadowed by his extinguishing of a light, plunging the scene into darkness. An attractive young woman is boxed up and presented to a corrupt samurai as a 'Kyoto Doll', considered nothing more than a toy for his amusement. The sound of a simple jangling handbell associates itself with evil. Crazy skewed camera angles are used in several scenes to emphasize the horror of the moment. While there's nothing supernatural going on, approaching the film in this way helped to underscore the abuses being put on display.

Animeigo has delivered a good looking print and upholds its reputation for producing a detailed and accurate translation, complete with on screen cultural notes. They even translate the ENTIRE cast list, something rarely done in the west (but appreciated by those of us who like to 'actor spot'). The care put into this release is on display from the opening menu. Here black and white photos of the 'seven generations' emerge from the top and bottom of the screen to close like a set of jagged teeth, and the photos are slowly filled in with sickly looking colors that set the stage for the horrors to come. The extras will be of particular interest to readers of the Samurai Archives. The Samurai Archives Samurai Wiki was used as a source for many of the cultural notes (which give abundant background on all the eras the film covers). In addition, an essay on the history behind Bushido by film historian and Samurai Archives staffer Randy Schadel is included that amply illustrates how samurai behavior usually fell far short of the idealized version of Bushido. Rounding out the extras are trailers (two different ones for this film plus ones for Shinsengumi, Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin, Shogun Assassin, and Samurai Assassin), an image gallery, bios for Imai, Nakamura, and Mita Yoshiko (who played Kyoko and who is still active in Japanese filmmaking-she was in Battle Royale 2), and a short essay that gives the traditional view of Bushido. The extras do a solid job of complementing the film's content as well as expanding on some of the issues it brings up. Short of some of Criterion's more elaborate releases, no one does extras for jidaigeki films better than Animeigo.

In our opinion, this film should be required viewing for anyone with an interest in jidaigeki films, if only to balance the surfeit of 'noble ronin' and 'glorious samurai' films out there. It'll give even the worst 'modern sammyrai' pause to consider if following the tenets of Bushido is such a good idea after all! There's no 'bullshido' here-just excellent performances, a compelling well-told story, and a first rate package of supplements. You can order 'Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai' directly from Animeigo or at Amazon through the SA store.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 2:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


New from Animeigo is a five disc DVD set of Nakamura Kinnosuke's version of the 'Miyamoto Musashi' saga. Preferred by many to the Mifune Toshiro 'Samurai' saga of three films (covering the same material), we'll be reviewing this in the next couple of weeks. It's sure to be at the top of LtDomer's shopping list! Here's the official press release-



Miyamoto Musashi - The Ultimate Samurai
The Set of 5 Discs

On Sale Now @ AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: May 4, 2010

Japan’s most famous samurai, MIYAMOTO Musashi (1584-1645), was an unmatched warrior whose innovative two-sword technique left him victorious in over 60 duels. Today, his philosophy lives on in The Book of Five Rings, his world-famous manual on battleground (and boardroom) strategy.

This epic five-film series, based on the best-selling saga by YOSHIKAWA Eiji (over 120 million copies sold worldwide), portrays the definitive account of Musashi, and is regarded in Japan as the best film series adaptation on the life of the legendary swordsman.



Miyamoto Musashi
(Japanese title - Miyamoto Musashi)
1961 / 110 minutes

After Takézo (Musashi) and his friend Matahachi end up on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara, Matahachi decides to start a new life with an older woman. When Takézo returns home to tell Matahachi's fiancé Otsu and mother Obaba what happened, he ends up being hunted as a fugitive — and hung from the top of a tree by an enigmatic monk.

Extra Features: Audio Commentary by Film Historian Stuart Galbraith IV, Cast & Crew Bios, Program Notes, Image Gallery, Theatrical Trailer
Copyright: ©1961 Toei Co., Ltd.

Miyamoto Musashi II - Duel at Hannya Hill
(Japanese title - Miyamoto Musashi: Hannyazaka no Ketto)
1962 / 107 minutes

After three years of study, Takézo has transformed himself into a well-educated samurai, and taken a new name — Miyamoto Musashi. Despite his love for Otsu, he sets out to continue his training by challenging the swordsmen of the Yoshioka Dojo and the spearmen of Hozo’in Temple.

Extra Features: Image Gallery, Program Notes, Theatrical Trailer
Copyright: ©1962 Toei Co., Ltd.

Miyamoto Musashi III - Birth of the Nito-ryu Style
(Japanese title - Miyamoto Musashi: Nitoryu Kaigan)
1963 / 104 minutes

Musashi's attempts to arrange a duel with renowned master Yagyu Sekishuusai put him on the bad side of all of the master's students, and lead to the development of his famous two-sword technique. Meanwhile, the man who will become his greatest rival, Sasaki Kojiro, makes an appearance.

Extra Features: Image Gallery, Program Notes, Theatrical Trailer
Copyright: ©1962 Toei Co., Ltd.


Miyamoto Musashi IV - Duel at Ichijyo-ji Temple
(Japanese title - Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijoji no Ketto)
1964 / 128 minutes

After Musashi's heartfelt meeting with Otsu, where he finally confesses his true feelings, his clash with the Yoshioka Dojo reaches its climax when he takes on all 73 members in a single duel. And always nearby is Kojiro, now convinced that only Musashi is a worthy adversary.

Extra Features: Image Gallery, Program Notes, Theatrical Trailer
Copyright: ©1964 Toei Co., Ltd.


Miyamoto Musashi V - Duel at Ganryu Island
(Japanese title - Miyamoto Musashi: Ganryu-jima no Ketto)
1965 / 121 minutes

Musashi agrees to duel Kojiro. As he travels to Ganryu Island for the most famous duel in Japanese history, some familiar characters — some good, some bad — will meet him along the way. Meanwhile, Kojiro's supporters are busy plotting — if Musashi wins, they intend to ensure he doesn't enjoy his victory for long!

Extra Features: Image Gallery, Program Notes, Theatrical Trailer
Copyright: ©1965 Toei Co., Ltd.

Technical Details:

We did our best to restore image quality with the source materials provided.

UPC# 7-37187-01429-1
ISBN# 1-56567-544-4
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Color/B&W: Color
Runtime: 570 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1961-1965
Suggested Rating: 18+

Copyright:

©1961-1965 Toei Co., Ltd.

Warning: Contains Violence
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PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 2:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


It’s no secret that a lot of us here at the SA don’t think much of Miyamoto Musashi’s popular image as ‘The Ultimate Samurai’, feeling instead he’s the ‘Most Overrated Samurai’. There’s a lot of misinformation in the English language world bandied about concerning Musashi, much of which you can read about in a prior post that dissected the godawful History Channel/Mark Dacascos Musashi love fest, ‘Samurai’. However, this criticism doesn’t extend to films-as works of fiction, we rate them solely on their artistic merit and entertainment value. Since many Japanese films dealing with famous historical figures are based on novels, it’s really the only way to go-one can hardly fault a film that’s based on a work of fiction for being inaccurate. Rather, one can look at them as taking place in a fantasy/different timeline version of Japan-much like the Last Samurai, Shogun, or even Taiga Dramas that play fast and loose with the facts. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Animeigo’s newest boxed DVD set, Toei’s five film Uchida Tomu/Nakamura Kinnosuke ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ series. For those who like their symmetry, there’s a film here for each of the rings in Musashi’s autobiography/sword training manual “The Book of Five Rings”. Animeigo’s set is a sword slash above any other multi film or TV series dealing with Musashi, and only the 2003 film ‘Ganryujima’ keeps it from being the best cinematic treatment of the man (well, unless you count the zombie Musashi in ‘Samurai Resurrection/Makai Tenshou’-jidaigeki doesn’t get any better than that).



The series is based on Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel ‘Musashi’ (which was originally serialized in a Japanese newspaper in the 1930’s). Yoshikawa’s novel is almost wholly responsible for the deification of Musashi and his popularity today and has formed the basis for most films portraying him. One of these that many viewers will already be familiar with is the well known Inagaki ‘Samurai Trilogy’ starring Mifune Toshiro. While the Inagaki series has a good reputation in the west (thanks in no small part to Mifune and its inclusion in the ‘Criterion Collection’), we’ve always found it rather pedestrian and lacking. One might say it’s as overrated as Musashi. Mifune turns in a one note performance as Musashi and the other performances come up flat. The Nakamura series also contains a better sampling of celebrated incidents from the Yoshikawa book, with one notable exception. Musashi’s battle with the kusarigama (sickle and chain) master made it into the Inagaki films but not Uchida’s. Interestingly enough, Uchida and Nakamura reunited years later to produce a film based around this omitted incident. Uchida died before the film was completed but it was eventually released. Some consider this to be a ‘sixth film’ connected to the 1961-65 series, but we don’t. It obviously isn’t part of the original cycle’s concept and overview, and is better considered a separate treatment of the character using the same director and star. In any case, the Uchida/Nakamura ‘Musashi’ series outshines the Inagaki version in acting, presentation, emotional impact, and depth.



The first film in the series, “Miyamoto Musashi (1961)”, follows the early years of Musashi beginning with the aftermath of the battle of Sekigahara. Musashi (here still known as Takezo) and his friend Matahachi find themselves on the run after having joined the losing side. The two end up hiding out at the home of Oko and her daughter Akemi. Matahachi falls for the older woman and when the home is threatened by bandits, Takezo stays to fight while Matahachi leaves with the women. Takezo returns to his hometown to inform Matahachi’s mother Osugi and fiancée Otsu what has happened, but finds himself the object of Osugi’s anger and hunted by pro-Tokugawa samurai. Zen monk Takuan manages to lure him out of hiding without further bloodshed, but the sputtering Takezo finds himself hanging from the branches of a thousand year old tree and left to die. The monk’s ultimate plan plays itself out, but will it be too late for Takezo?



“Duel At Hannya Hill (Hannyazaka No Ketto, 1962)” opens with Takezo studying the ways of the samurai while restricted to the haunted tower of Himeji Castle. Upon ending his three years of isolation, he forgoes an offer of employment from Lord Ikeda, changes his name to Musashi, and embarks on a musha shugyo (a pilgrimage taken by a samurai to gain experience, see the world and hone their sword skills). He also abandons Otsu, who has fallen in love with him and waited three years for his release. Musashi seeks outs challenges from warriors and martial arts schools of all types, from the sword skills of the Yoshioka dojo to the Hozoin monks and their distinctive spear style. Along the way he picks up a child apprentice, is pursued by Osugi (seeking revenge for her son Matahachi, who she believes to be dead) and manages to make enemies of a large group of local ronin. The final showdown at Hannya Hill sees him pitted against the full might of the Hozoin monks and the lawless ronin.



Musashi’s feud with the Yoshioka School comes to a head in “Birth Of The Nito-Ryu Style (Nitoryu Kaigan, 1963)”. Before battling Yoshioka Seijuro in the penultimate duel, Musashi attempts to extort a lesson in swordsmanship from the venerable Yagyu Sekishuusai. This film is also the first in the series to feature an appearance by his ultimate nemesis, Sasaki Kojiro. Kojiro is played by Takakura Ken and presents a more physically intimidating Kojiro than most of the actors who have essayed the part. We also find out more about what has happened to Osugi, Oko, Akemi, and Matahachi as they make their own way through life-but still have fates that are intertwined with Musashi’s.



The Yoshioka School plans their revenge on Musashi in “Duel at Ichijyo-ji Temple (Ichijoji No Ketto, 1964)”. While trying to hide his fears early in the film, Musashi is ridiculed by a famous geisha whose company he has been gifted with. She sees beyond his surface calm to the fears and frailty within him-this after he has just returned from killing the younger of the Yoshioka brothers. After hiding out in the geisha’s teahouse, Musashi emerges and is confronted by the assembled Yoshioka. He agrees to fight one final battle against them-one which uses a child as his ostensible opponent with 73 members of the dojo acting as his seconds. In my opinion, this is the best of the five films, not so much because of the wild duel near the end but because of the moral dilemmas Musashi faces.



Finally, “Duel At Ganryu Island (Ganryu-jima No Ketto, 1965)” has as its centerpiece the famous duel between Musashi and Kojiro. It ties up several loose ends from the earlier films (such as the fate of Akemi and Matahachi, along with the resolution of Osugi’s vendetta against Musashi). Musashi, in an effort to redeem himself for having slaughtered a child, takes up farming with a boy whose father has just died. He is called back to the way of the sword when Kojiro issues a challenge to him-one which Musashi may not survive even if he wins. Takakura Ken is especially effective in this film, as he presents both a Kojiro who is full of confidence-and yet also one with a subliminal realization that he might have taken on more than he can handle.

Unlike most movies dealing with Musashi, the films don’t over glorify his every action-many times he’s portrayed as a shallow and hard headed jackass. Despite the fact that he spends three years locked up in Himeji Castle reading, studying, and supposedly making himself a more worthy person, it becomes apparent throughout the series that Musashi has just acquired a somewhat more civilized veneer-his core remains the same. His actions are continually questioned by other characters throughout the series. Otsu tells him that continued dueling will not result in any self improvement, but just more blood on his hands. Musashi deliberately provokes a fight with Yagyu swordsmen who have invited him to a blossom-viewing party. Buddhist monks eject him from their retreat on Mt. Hiei for the crime of killing a child-a deed which Musashi petulantly denies culpability for, trying to lay the blame on his foes and equating striking down the child with destroying a flag. Musashi angrily reacts to a Buddhist priest who states strategy should be used for the betterment of society and not for one’s own aggrandizement. Even Sasaki Kojiro wryly observes that Musashi is following the ‘Path of the Loser’. Musashi only realizes the truth after he has achieved what should have been his greatest victory-he disgustedly throws down his weapon and cries out to the heavens that following the way of the sword has left him empty inside, spiritually bereft and unfulfilled. It’s a moment unmatched in any other Musashi film.

Nakamura Kinnosuke still manages to make Musashi a sympathetic character with an outstanding performance. Nakamura, who is just beginning to have his films commercially released in the west, shows the emotional range he displayed in another recent Animeigo release (Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai). His Musashi not only presents the fierceness and primitive rage of Takezo, but of a more understanding and educated Musashi later on. Throughout the series he allows the dark side of Takezo to emerge, usually at moments of high stress, to crack the facade of the cool, capable swordsman Musashi wishes to be seen as. Many of the films end with Musashi ranting in denial at a particularly tough lesson he has just learned. Nakamura allows us to see a man who is truly trying to conquer his evil side, taking two steps forward and one step back. This Musashi is allowed to show kindness and consideration for those around him and develop somewhat deeper relations with other characters than one usually sees in Musashi films-certainly moreso than Inagaki’s trilogy, where Mifune is basically in ‘master swordsman’ mode 24/7. This results in the ‘Uchida’ Musashi being a more complex, subtle, and layered character than the simple martial arts superman he’s usually seen as.

While there isn’t as much emphasis on the second tier actors as in some Musashi adaptations, they all turn in believable performances. Oka Satomi as Akemi is particularly good-while many actresses have portrayed her as a bitch, Oka gives her a sweet and vulnerable side that makes her a likeable character (having said that, Uchiyama Rina from the NHK Musashi Taiga Drama still ranks as the best Akemi). Irie Wakaba as Otsu also manages to infuse her character with dignity and conscience, making her more than the hysterical obsessed Musashiphile she usually is portrayed as. Naniwa Chieko’s Osugi is the perfect crotchety old Japanese grandmother-she’s way over the top, but it works given her character’s personality. While the actors portraying Musashi’s friend Matahachi (the role changed hands after the first film) and Takuan (Musashi’s spiritual guide) come off a bit flat, overall the supporting cast does an excellent job.

Director Uchida Tomu always keeps his focus on the story and characters-it’s a workmanlike job but effective. There’s not much in the way of obvious ‘art house’ shots, but Uchida subtly stages settings and lighting to underscore the action on the screen without drawing attention to it. And occasionally an ‘art house’ shot does turn up, as when Musashi is seen lying amongst a sea of blood red ferns after having carved his way through the Yoshioka School (scenes which were shot in hues of green and blue). The symbolism is stark and effective-Musashi has immersed himself in bloodshed. There’s also a striking sequence in the first film where Musashi is confronted by the ghosts of his ancestors in Himeji Castle while blood pours forth from the walls and floor.

And as everyone has come to expect, Animeigo’s translation and subtitling are the best in the business. Different levels of subtitling can be selected to match the viewer’s proficiency in spoken/written Japanese. Extras for the set include an audio commentary by film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, trailers for each of the films, program notes, and image galleries. As with many of Animeigo’s boxed sets, the program notes are spread out across five films and seem a bit sparse when compared with their single disc releases. There’s surprisingly little information given on the historical Musashi, with most of the content devoted to cultural issues. Disc one does contain bios for Musashi and Kojiro, but leaves out large chunks of Musashi’s career. The image galleries are well done, and a particularly nice touch is that the film’s posters are reproduced-both in full screen and in individual close up shots of sections of the poster that allow viewers to read the text. The real gem of the extras is Stuart Galbraith IV’s commentary on disc one. Galbraith (who also provided the excellent commentary for Animeigo’s Tora-san set) packs an incredible amount of film history into 110 minutes. Ranging from cultural observations to cast and crew information as well as commenting on the film itself, he keeps his presentation lively and engaging. Particularly interesting is the discussion of how Inagaki’s ‘Samurai Trilogy’ became famous in the west while it was considered inferior to the Uchida version in Japan (it was largely due to a famous Hollywood actor’s response to the popularity of ‘Seven Samurai’ in the USA). Also brought on board is Charles Ziarko (first assistant director from the classic miniseries Shogun) to discuss how Japanese filmmaking differs from Hollywood. Going the extra mile, Galbraith gives an extended overview of the historical Musashi that doesn’t omit the ‘embarrassing’ parts (such as his participation in putting down the Shimabara Rebellion).

So it is that we find ourselves in the unusual position of writing words of praise for Musashi-or at least the Nakamura version in this five film set. The series will be of interest to both fans of Musashi and for those looking for a somewhat different presentation of the man. Depending on your point of view, ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ can be seen as a glorification of martial adeptness-or a condemnation of placing objects and technical skill before one’s soul. Nakamura breathes life into the Musashi legend and gives the character real humanity and depth. You can order the Miyamoto Musashi DVD boxed set directly from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store.
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PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Animeigo's going to start releasing some of its DVDs on Blu-ray-first up is Shogun Assassin (including an interview with Samuel L. Jackson):



Official Press Release

"AnimEigo announces the release of the Shogun Assassin Blu-ray!

Wilmington, NC - May 21, 2010 - AnimEigo is proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary samurai cult classic, Shogun Assassin, by announcing the first ever high-definition version of the film! The most famous samurai film in the Western World is finally coming to North America in the clearest and most pristine version ever seen by man, woman, or ninja.

In 2006, our first official release of Shogun Assassin set the bar for high quality with its crystal-clear DVD picture. This time around, we once again reconstructed the film, this time using uncompressed 1080p 24p source materials.

But that's not all! For this special edition of samurai slaughter, we've compiled some incredible exclusive extras, only available on this disc. For starters, there's a must-see 10+ minute interview with Samuel L. Jackson about his fondness of Shogun Assassin and other samurai films, shot exclusively for this release in 2009. And to top it all off, we gathered three of the original cast and crew for a brand new, highly-informative, feature-length audio commentary. This new commentary features never-before-heard insider perspectives of the 1980 film's creation from some of the key players who made it all happen: Producer David Weisman, Illustrator Jim Evans, and Gibran Evans, who provided the epic voice narration of Daigoro!

And the best part of the disc is… the price! We've set our suggested retail price at $24.98, so expect great deals on this groundbreaking release.

See the most famous Samurai movie of all time–that the Japanese have still never heard of!

See the movie that you've watched a million times, but never really seen–because you've never seen it in 1080p!

It's the one... the only... Shogun Assassin… in High Definition!

Because the best color for blood… is Blu!

The Shogun Assassin 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray will be available on the AnimEigo website in July and from a store near you August 24, 2010."
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
New from Animeigo is Shintaro Katsu performing as a blind masseur in what was in effect a precursor to the Zatoichi series-"The Blind Menace". It's available now directly from Animeigo or you can preorder from Amazon through the SA Store.



"See Katsu at his best -- doing his worst!

Before he portrayed the legendary blind swordsman, Zatoichi, Shintaro Katsu played Suganoichi, a blind court masseur with a dark side. An outcast since birth, he learned from a young age that the only way to get ahead was to take advantage of others. Now an expert con-artist with a heart of coal, Suganoichi is on a vile quest for power, and everyone else will suffer along the way!

*The film that inspired the Zatoichi series.
*Starring the legendary Shintaro Katsu.
*A must see of all fans of the Zatoichi series!

The Blind Menace (Shiranui Kengyo) DVD
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Format: DVD-9
Region: 1 - North America
Rating: 18+
Run Time: 91 min.
Released: 1960
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
B&W
Extras: Program Notes, Image Gallery, Trailer, Cast & Crew Bios
Director(s): Kazuo Mori
Author(s): Minoru Inuzuka, Nobuo Uno
Actors: Mayumi Kurata, Mieko Kondo, Shintaro Katsu, Tamao Nakamura, Toru Abe
Warning: Contains Violence, Despicability.
© 1960 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc."
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 2:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
The Mind Is Deadlier Than The Sword-Animeigo’s ‘The Blind Menace’



The image is familiar to any fan of the Zatoichi series-Katsu Shintaro, in his role as a blind masseur, cheerfully massages the back and shoulders of a daimyo’s wife, all the while spouting empty words of flattery. But the familiar image soon goes wrong-the blind masseur begins to deviate from the standard massage into something a bit more…personal. It isn’t long before it escalates into a full fledged sexual assault that leaves the woman a sobbing, humiliated wreck-and for her, the worst is yet to come. Meet Suginoichi, the masseur from Animeigo’s new “The Blind Menace” DVD (Japanese title “Shiranui Kengyo”). As kind and compassionate as Katsu’s Zatoichi character was, that’s how rotten Suginoichi is. And yet, this was the role that was to become the direct inspiration for the Zatoichi film series. Not only is the film interesting for examining the early gestation of Katsu’s portrayal of the blind masseur, but a fascinating film on its own. Suginoichi is startlingly devoid of human compassion. He’s a cold and calculating man who yet is able to function perfectly in society and endear himself to virtually everyone he meets-the perfect sociopathic personality. His victims are completely unaware of what’s in store for them until it’s far too late. Suginoichi is so terrible that even his own murdering lackies think he’s a rotten bastard who needs to die. Most intriguingly, counter to most Edo period jidaigeki, Suginoichi doesn’t need a sword to get what he wants.




The government of the Edo period (like any large bureaucracy) certainly saw more than its share of corruption with offices and titles being bought and sold, bribes dictating the course of policy, and official power being used to line one’s pockets. Abuse by Temple and Shrine officials was made even easier by the fact that they were overseen by a different government ministry than townspeople and samurai and were not under the jurisdiction of the regular police force. There were many instances of temples dabbling in illegal prostitution (as opposed to the legal prostitution of the Yoshiwara and other districts), selling opium and other drugs, and especially in loan sharking. This is the world where Suginoichi finds himself. He’s determined to use whatever means necessary to secure for himself the office of Shiranui Kengyo. The guild of blind masseurs was basically divided into four classes ranging from Kengyo at the top down through Bettou and Koutou to Zato at the bottom (thus making the Zatoichi character at the bottom rung status-wise). The title of Shiranui Kengyo will put Suginoichi at the very top of the guild of blind masseurs, giving him a position of influence and control over not only the lower ranked guild members but associated temples as well. Animeigo states that Shiranui is likely the name of Suginoichi’s master, but it probably would have been a place/temple name-there were several of these historically called Shiranui, and in fact the new bestselling novel ‘The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob DeZoet’ revolves around a Shiranui Shrine. The guild of blind men worked closely with temples and many times the higher ranks exercised a large degree of power over their operation, engineering the illegal activities outlined above.



The film opens with Shichinosuke (Suginoichi as a child) scamming local workmen at a festival, claiming he has ‘dropped a booger’ into a bucket of sake, making it undrinkable-and available for him to take home to his mother for free. We see early on that Suginoichi’s mother is the force that has propelled him down the wrong path, encouraging his behavior and planting in him the desire to become Shiranui Kengyo. His father, a decent and good sort, is virtually ignored by both mother and son. Shichinosuke moves on to bigger scams, using his blindness to gain sympathy and extort money from the wealthy by making it appear as if they are trying to take advantage of him. Years later, Suginoichi wakes from a dream of his childhood days, still accompanied by his feeble minded childhood friend/gopher Tome. Suginoichi hasn’t risen to high office yet-he’s still one of the lower ranked masseurs, but as can be seen by his behavior (arriving late for meetings and talking down to his peers), considers himself to be well above their station. While running an errand for the Shiranui Kengyo, Suginoichi runs across Kanji, a freak show owner doubled over in pain, who lets it slip that he’s carrying a large amount of cash (200 ryo). Suginoichi relieves him of his pain (permanently) and of his cash. Unfortunately for Suginoichi, there’s been a witness-Severed Head Kurakichi. Suginoichi, being a practical man, splits his take with Kurakichi-and also subtly manages to set him up to take the rap when the murder is discovered.



Using his ill gotten gains as seed money for bribes and financing criminal activity, Suginoichi manages to improve his status. However, his climb up the ladder looks like it might be put to a permanent end while visiting a local merchant. Suginoichi has the misfortune to be present when bandits raid the house looking for the merchant’s ready cash. Killing the merchant and his mistress, they advance upon Suginoichi-who recognizes his former partner in crime, Severed Head Kurakichi. He boldly claims that if they kill him they’ll never find the money-but for a large chunk of the take, he’ll tell them where it is hidden. Somewhat taken aback by his effrontery, the bandits agree and before long find themselves working for the evil masseur. Adding insult to injury, Suginoichi invites Okimi (from the household of the slain merchant) to stay with him as his guest. But nothing’s free. Suginoichi tricks Okimi into being alone with him and rapes her, leading to her suicide and his snorting in contempt that her death has nothing to do with him.



With the aid of his new criminal friends, Suginoichi gains yet more power, money, and influence. He’s routinely approached by nobility and members of the samurai class for loans. And there’s nothing Suginoichi likes better than humiliating the higher-ups of society every chance he gets. When he’s approached by Lady Iwai (played by Katsu’s real-life wife Nakamura Tamao), it leads to the scenario outlined in our opening paragraph-and sets into motion a sequence of events that will see Suginoichi gain the coveted office of Shiranui Kengyo and access to the Shogun himself. Along the way there’s more murder, poisonings, and a bit of samurai justice. Suginoichi’s men find that there’s no escaping his control. Secrets from the past are rediscovered and work out just they way they were planned-but with disastrous unanticipated results. In the final sequence, the exalted Suginoichi is in a palanquin on his way to Edo Castle-he’s so powerful that other processions in the street have to make way for him. His wicked ways and masterful manipulation of every person and situation he’s come in contact with have left him at the very top-or so it would seem…

It’s definitely fun to watch Katsu begin to develop the body language and mannerisms that would come to be identified with his Zatoichi character. The subtle tilt of his head to facilitate hearing, the frenzied massage style, the ‘blind man’s duckwalk’, and Zatoichi’s ingratiating patter can all be seen starting out here. Animeigo’s liner notes explain that Katsu, whose career at Daiei Studios was going nowhere, had seen the play Shiranui Kengyo. He thought the Suginoichi part would be a perfect vehicle for him and pitched the idea to the studio. His enthusiasm for the project and immersion into the part convinced Daiei to produce the film, where his energy impressed both director Mori Kazuo and screenwriter Inuzura Minoru. The film proved to be just what Katsu’s career needed, being a big hit. For a follow up, it was decided another blind masseur role would be used-and Inuzura worked on adapting a series of stories featuring a blind masseur who was also a master swordsman-Zatoichi. Inuzura fleshed the character out and with Mori directing many of the early entries, it was to become Katsu’s signature role, resulting in 26 films and 100 episodes of a TV series.

At the same time, it’s just as fun to watch Katsu’s take on a character with no redeeming value-yet one that still manages to come across to his prey as charming and interesting. Unlike most western films, Japanese films have no problem with a lead character that has no sympathetic side whatsoever. This is a man so hard, resentful, and spiteful that he’ll poison his concubine Ohan and her lover-AFTER he hires the lover to construct a chest he intends to use as their coffin. A man who’s so calculatingly practical that he continues to employ his criminal underlings after they had attempted to kill him (an attempt he foresaw and forestalled). Even in one of the film’s few whimsical moments (a fantasy sequence when Suginoichi dreams of the famous concubine Ohan he plans to make his), it’s tempered by the knowledge that Suginoichi sees her as nothing more than property and a status symbol to make others envious-he has no love to spare for her. It seems that there’s no situation Suginoichi can’t smooth over, manipulate, or finesse his way out of, even if he has to ‘die’ to do it. He seems to always anticipate his opponent’s next move and be able to turn every situation to his advantage. Viewers will find themselves strangely looking forward to whatever outrage Suginoichi has planned next. Katsu is masterful, playing to the hilt both Suginoichi’s diabolical core and his smooth, civilized veneer. Katsu’s meltdown at the end when Suginoichi’s excesses begin to catch up with him is a perfect blend of outrage at having been caught, contempt for his captors, and a frenzied belief that there’s still a way out.

As is the norm, Animeigo’s translations are superb, giving listeners multiple options depending on their level of expertise in Japanese. The transfer is solid both from an audio and visual standpoint. Extras for the disc include the original trailer, a small image gallery of black and white stills, short bios of the stars, writer, composer, and director, and program notes. The notes deal mainly with cultural issues and give useful background on the office of kengyo. They also touch on how the film became the jumping-off point for the Zatoichi series. Perhaps the most interesting entry covers Katsu’s marriage to his on-screen co-star, Nakamura Tamao. Katsu was as much of a rogue in real life as on the screen and his long-suffering wife took his womanizing, gambling, drinking, and drug abuse with good humor, even going so far as to thank his mistresses for taking such good care of him (the notes sardonically observe that many men would consider her ‘the perfect wife’). One thing we noticed is that the interactive map that was such an enjoyable part of many recent Animeigo DVDs (Shinobi No Mono, Father of the Kamikaze, The Wolves, Tora-san, etc) hasn’t shown up on their last couple of DVD releases. While “The Blind Menace” doesn’t really require a map (taking place mainly in Edo), the Musashi boxed set would have benefited greatly from one. Hopefully these will be seen in future efforts. The DVD box also features one of the more badass looking covers I’ve seen in quite some time-it almost looks like a horror film.

While Animeigo’s recent boxed sets have been great, it’s good to get a standalone film like this once in a while (with more on the way, like Shintaro/Raizo’s Samurai Vendetta and Raizo’s Shinsengumi Chronicles). It’s interesting to see how two such different characters like Zatoichi and Suginoichi can share the same starting point-not to mention the same actor. There’s no cane sword or lightning chanbara action here-but Suginoichi proves that the most effective weapon is always the human mind. The mind is indeed deadlier than the sword. And when employed for evil, much harder to combat.

You can pick up a copy of ‘The Blind Menace’ directly from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store, and Animeigo also has seven of the Zatoichi films available individually or as a boxed set.

Images courtesy and copyright 1960 Kadokawa Pictures Inc.


Last edited by Tatsunoshi on Tue Jul 27, 2010 10:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 1:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Shogun Assassin
30th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray



On Sale Now at www.AnimEigo.com for $19.98
Official Street Date: August 24, 2010

In a time of evil and tyranny, a stone-faced ronin wanders the countryside with his young son (and a weapon-filled baby cart), hunted by the merciless minions of an evil Shogun. Once a noble samurai, he is now the most feared assassin in Japan, known only as Lone Wolf.

Starring the legendary Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shogun Assassin is perhaps the most famous samurai film in the Western world. Created by editing together the first two Kozure Ookami (Lone Wolf and Cub) films, Shogun Assassin has sliced through pop culture much like the Lone Wolf slices through evildoers, influencing everything from GZA's 1995 Liquid Swords album to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2. Thirty years after its initial release, it remains one of the most deliriously violent and action-packed films of all time!

Extra Features:

*Exclusive interview with Samuel L. Jackson
*Audio commentary by Film Scholar Ric Meyers and Martial Arts Expert Steve Watson.
*New commentary by Producer David Weisman, Illustrator Jim Evans, and Gibran Evans, who provided the epic voice narration of Daigoro!
*Program Notes
*Restoration Gallery
*HD Trailer

Technical Details:

UPC# 7-37187-01000-2
ISBN# 1-56567-547-9
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Region: A
Runtime: 85 min. plus extras
Audio: English
Theatrical Release: 1980
MPAA Rating: R
MSRP: $24.98

Copyright:

©1980 Toho Co., Ltd.

Warning: Contains Violence, Nudity & Extremely Hypertensive Villains
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
New from Animeigo is Samurai Vendetta starring the dynamic duo of chanbara-Ichikawa Raizo and Katsu Shintaro:



Samurai Vendetta
(“Hakuoki”) a.k.a. Samurai Vendetta: A Chronicle of Pale Cherry Blossoms

On Sale at a discounted price now @ AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: October 12, 2010

Synopsis:

Rushing to the duel that will make him nationally famous, NAKAYAMA Yasubei (Shintaro KATSU) encounters TANGÉ Tenzen (Raizo ICHIKAWA), a young Shogunate official. The two men develop a deep friendship, one that endures even after Tenzen marries the woman that Yasubei secretly loves.

But fate cuts deeper than any sword, and the two men find themselves supporting opposing clans. Yasubei will soon become immortal as one of the legendary 47 Ronin, and Tenzen is honor-bound to protect their intended target, the infamous Lord Kira.

The swords of the two friends will soon be drawn – and once a samurai draws his sword, it must be stained with blood before it can be resheathed!

Extra Features:

*Program Notes
*Cast & Crew Bios
*Theatrical Trailer
*Image Gallery

Technical Details:
UPC# 7-37187-01449-9
ISBN# 1-56567-548-7
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 109 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1959
Suggested Rating: 18+
MSRP: $24.98

Copyright: ©1959 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.

Warning: Contains Violence

TATSU'S NOTE:Be advised this film has NOTHING to do with the otome video game series Hakuoki that I routinely make fun of in the gaming thread.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


While we at the SA prefer our chanbara subbed, not dubbed, there's no denying the influence 'Shogun Assassin' has had on Western audiences. This film (cobbled together from parts of the first two 'Lone Wolf And Cub/Kozure Okami' films and given an English language dub) introduced the ultra violent samurai epics of the 70's to a audience that had previously had only Kurosawa fare to watch for a jidaigeki fix. Interestingly enough, the film has also had a big crossover impact in the horror/splatter film genre, being celebrated in many works devoted to Splatter Cinema. It even made it into the #6 position on the late Goremeister Extraordinaire Chas Balun's 'Dirty Dozen' list! The latter group would surely approve of the tag line Animeigo has given to its new Blu-ray release of this seminal offering-"The film that brought new life to BLOOD-DRENCHED DEATH!" From Samuel L. Jackson to Quentin Tarantino (who paid homage to the film in 'Kill Bill 2'), the film has made its presence felt. You might say that 'Shogun Assassin' is now the Blu-blood of Animeigo's classic film lineup!

This 1980 release saw the film take twelve minutes of footage from the first Baby Cart film, Sword Of Vengeance, and lift the remainder of the footage from Baby Cart At The River Styx (both of which are also available from Animeigo). The original film provides the background to the series-how Shogunate executioner Ogami Itto was stripped of his title, marked for death by the Shogun, and along with his infant son Daigoro became a ronin and began to roam the countryside as an assassin-for-hire. The footage from part two is highlighted by the conflict between Itto and the 'Masters Of Death', three killers who each specialize in an exotic weapon-a tiger claw, spiked club, and spiked knuckles.

If you've only watched the original Lone Wolf And Cub films, noting the different ways in which Shogun Assassin strays from them makes for interesting viewing. The most notable difference is that the Yagyu clan has been stricken from the books, with clan leader Retsudo now being installed as the Shogun. While Daigoro says next to nothing in the Japanese versions, he becomes the chronicler/narrator of Shogun Assassin. Most of the subplots involving the motivations of the Masters Of Death and the Yagyu are eliminated. The American producers did leave in the one thing that mattered-the buckets of blood, flying limbs, and intense sword fighting. From krazed kunoichi karving up a rival shinobi to make a point, to the baby cart tricked out with as many gadgets and weapons as the Batmobile, to the all out assault and showdown between Ogami and the Masters of Death, not a drop of blood has been omitted. One of the more amusing anecdotes given about the film in the commentary (discussed at length in the next paragraph) is how 'The Masters Of Death', while not being up to defeating Ogami Itto, did manage to defeat the evil censors on the MPAA ratings board. The biggest difference is actually in the trailer for the film, which attempts to promote Shogun Assassin as a 'Conan The Barbarian' sword-and-sorcery film. Hearing about how Itto massacres hundreds of enemies 'with one sweep of his mystic blade', the description of himself and Daigoro as the 'greatest team in the history of mass slaughter', and seeing the Shogun described as a wizard-well, to anyone who grew up watching misleading film trailers it's a real treat.

There are not one but two commentary tracks on the disc. The first is a carryover from the boxed set of Shogun Assassin films (it didn't appear on the individual initial release) and is done by 'Film Scholar' Ric Meyers and 'Martial Arts Expert' Steve Watson. Myers dispenses with the self-referential praise and poor grasp of Japanese culture and history that tainted his commentary for Animeigo's 'Shinobi No Mono 2', turning in an excellent examination of the film's history, stars, voice actors, and production staff. Watson doesn't chime in often and generally seems to be there to correct Meyers's poor Japanese pronunciation. The second commentary is by far the most interesting-it's done by 'Shogun Assassin' Producer David Weisman, Graphic Designer Jim Evans (who designed the memorable 'two sword' English language poster), and Gibran Evans (the English language voice actor for Daigoro). This is definitely Weisman's show, and the insight he brings to the acquisition/localization of foreign films for distribution in the US is a treasure trove for Japanese film enthusiasts. If you've wanted to know why they spliced together two films to make one, why these particular films were chosen, had Daigoro narrate the story, why the story was changed to exclude the Yagyu clan, or why it was dubbed in English rather than subtitled-Weisman has an answer for you. From a business standpoint, it's obvious he was dead on-the film was a box office smash despite the fact that an earlier subtitled version of another of the 'Baby Cart' films flopped badly. The dubbing process is examined in depth (including Sandra Bernhard's fabled cacklings) and the level of dedication and pride taken in the process will come as a surprise to many. Weisman also has an interesting theory that the 'Baby Cart' films revolve around the love of father and son and their bonding. While this aspect of the series is seen in the excellent TV version of the series (featuring Nakamura Kinnosuke's superior portrayal of Ogami Itto), we've always found it absent in Wakayama Tomisaburo's Ogami-quite the opposite. His cold and calculating manner seems to relegate his son to the status of nothing more than a convenient tool. Still, Weisman provides enough food for thought to back up his viewpoint.

There's also an original interview done with Samuel L. Jackson on Shogun Assassin and the influence it's had on his film career, including his voice work on 'Afro Samurai'. It's also obvious Jackson is a huge chanbara fan, with hundreds of films in his collection. Other extras include cast and crew bios for the principles, a still gallery, and the film's ungodly misleading trailer. Aniemigo's always excellent program notes are on display as well, giving historical background and cultural explanations for the action in the film. There's also a very cool section that allows you to compare scenes from the bootleg, DVD, and Blu-ray versions of Shogun Assasssin and how the quality of the transfers has improved over the years. Even on our old-school 1992 TV, you can see a big difference in quality from the Animeigo DVD to Blu-ray. It would be even more pronounced on a modern big-screen HD TV! The next step will no doubt be a 3-D version where the blood comes right into your living room-when that happens, it'll be time for us to upgrade our antique TV.

New TV or old, the excellent transfer along with the new commentaries make this a welcome addition to any chanbara film's collection. If you've put off watching the 'American version' of Lone Wolf, now would be the time to indulge yourself. You'll come away with a better understanding of the difficulties involved in marketing foreign films in the US and be treated to one of the iconic splatter/sword releases of the eighties to boot. At $13, how can you go wrong? Just don't sit too close to the screen-regular blood's hard enough to get out, but Blu-blood is a real bitch. The Blu-ray release of Shogun Assassin is available directly from Animeigo or through Amazon at the Samurai Archives Store.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 06, 2010 5:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


Hot on the heels of last month's Raizo/Katsu spectacular "Samurai Vendetta" comes the Raizo/Wakayama Tomisaburo spectacular "Shinsengumi Chronicles"! The official press release from Animeigo:

"Shinsengumi Chronicles - I want to die a Samurai!

This action-packed epic stars ICHIKAWA Raizo as a honest man who joins the Shinsengumi out of admiration for its leader, KONDO Isami (WAKAYAMA Tomisaburo), and because he wants to die as a samurai. But as his involvement grows, reality and idealism come into deadly conflict.

Starring ICHIKAWA Raizo (Shinobi No Mono series) and WAKAYAMA Tomisaburo (star of Lone Wolf & Cub).
Directed by MISUMI Kenji (Lone Wolf & Cub Movies).
Based on the best-selling novel by SHIMOSAWA Kan (creator of Zatoichi).

On Sale Now @ AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: November 9, 2010

Extra Features:
*Program Notes/Bios
*Theatrical Trailers
*Image Gallery

Technical Details:
UPC# 7-37187-01459-8
ISBN# 1-56567-548-5
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD9
Runtime: 93 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1963
Suggested Rating: 18+
MSRP: $24.98

Copyright:

©1963 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.

Warning: Contains Violence (well, we would certainly hope so-Tatsu)"
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
One Arm, One Leg, Two Legends-Animeigo's "Samurai Vendetta"



The story of the 47 Ronin is perhaps the most popular subject for Japanese literature, and almost as popular are the various 'gaiden' dealing with the various members of the group. 'Gaiden' means 'side story' and in this case the efforts of novelists and kabuki playwrights who fictionalized the lives of the Ronin leading up to the assault (and the time after it as well). This applies to Japanese cinema as well-there are dozens, if not hundreds, of 47 Ronin efforts and many of them are gaiden-for example, the excellent 1994 "Chushingura Gaiden Yotsuya Yaidan" that combines the world of the fictional Ronin with the famous "Ghost Of Yotsuya" story. Another would be the film being examined today-Animeigo's DVD release of 1959's "Samurai Vendetta" (Japanese title 'Hakuoki'**, "A Chronicle Of Pale Cherry Blossoms"). Taken from a story by noted novelist Gomi Kosuke, it combines the 47 Ronin with elements of the Tange Sazen story. It also stars two of chanbara's biggest headliners-Ichikawa Raizo and Katsu Shintaro (not to mention one of our favorites, character actor Date Saburo, as one of the film's rotten apples). As a bonus, you'll even get to watch Raizo play virtually two characters-respected Shogunate Inspector and swordmaster Tange Tenzen and the one armed (and later one legged) scruffy ronin Tange Tenzen. Along with Katsu's portrayal of 47 Ronin swordsman Horibe Yasubei, this gives the film one arm, one leg, and two chanbara legends in one of their better films together.



Nakayama Yasubei's not having a good day-he's just found out his uncle has been challenged to a group duel by a rival sword school, and the fight is already underway. Yasubei is hauling ass to the duel when he comes across the procession of Shogunal Inspector Tange Tenzen. Apologizing to Tenzen and requesting an emergency right of way, Yasubei is chugging past the procession when Tenzen notices that the cord Yasubei's used to tie back his loose sleeves is of poor quality, putting him in potential danger. Tenzen attempts to stop Yasubei but the flustered swordsman doesn't understand and continues on his way. Yasubei manages to make it to the fight just in time, but is indeed put at a disadvantage when the cord unravels. A samurai from the crowd throws him a makeshift cord made from his daughter's sash. A concerned Tenzen has followed Yasubei to render aid but seeing that he needs none (and that the enemies are from the same school he trains at), takes his leave. The heavily outnumbered Yasubei manages to clean house and in the process becomes wildly popular in Edo, with crowds of girls following him around and offers of employment from respected daimyo houses being extended.



Meanwhile, the duel has had repercussions for Tenzen-he has been spotted at the fight by other members of his dojo and is accused of being a coward by his fellow students. The accusations fly (after all, why didn't the men who reported Tenzen charge in to save their comrades?) and the situation only defuses when Tenzen is exiled from the dojo. As the master does so to indicate to the opposing school he desires peace, Yasubei's sensei follows suit, exiling him as well. The two cross paths again shortly after this, when Yasubei bails Tenzen out of a tight situation involving an 'honorable dog'. During Shogun Tsunayoshi's reign, dogs and other animals were protected against harm by his 'Laws of Compassion', and killing a dog usually meant death for the offender. Tenzen inadvertently kills one when his sword scabbard breaks as he attempts to defend his bride-to-be Chiharu from a pack of dogs (this scene is hilarious, as it appears dogs are being thrown by stagehands at Raizo from offscreen). Yasubei performs a Noh dance to defuse the suspicions of the 'Dog Hut' patrol (yes, really) and disposes of the carcass. Later, Tenzen returns the favor by stepping in for Yasubei to fight several members of his former sword school that are out looking for revenge. He disfigures five of their number, and the 'five bastards' are now sworn enemies of both men.



Yasubei, not knowing of Chiharu's impending marriage, decides to join the Nagao clan (a vassal of the Uesugi and family to Lord Kira) in order to cozy up to her-but ends up joining the Asano clan as a booby prize when he finds that she has been given to Tenzen. Yasubei is adopted by the samurai who supplied him with a 'sword cord' in the initial fight, changes his family name to Horibe, and is betrothed to the family's 13 year old daughter. Everyone seems content at this point, but it's not to last-the 'five bastards' break into Tenzen's home while he's away, have his wife drugged, and gang rape her. To add further insult, they spread rumors that Chiharu has also been unfaithful with Yasubei in an effort to provoke Tenzen into battling him, taking care of at least one of their foes. Tenzen's in a bind-as a samurai, he can't stay with a wife who's been violated even though he loves her and realizes she's not to blame. She can't be simply cast out, as her shame would compel her to commit suicide. He works up a plan worthy of the scammers in "Hana" and manages to clear her name, and divorces her with a clean record-but pays a heavy price as her angry brother lops off his arm from behind. Like another famous Tange of Japanese film (Tange Sazen), Tenzen is now a one armed swordsman-and eventually, one legged as well. How will he ever be able to track down and exact revenge on the 'five bastards'? What role will Yasubei play here, and where do the 47 Ronin enter the picture? Will Yasubei even make it to the raid on Kira's mansion in this version, and will he have to kill the woman he loves to procure information the Ronin need for the raid's success?



Raizo was a well established star by the time this film came out, with Katsu being substantially less so (his big break would come in two more years with "Shiranui Kengyo", another Animeigo release). For audiences used to seeing Raizo in his signature role as Nemuri Kyoshiro in the so-called 'Sleepy Eyes Of Death' series (yes, another Animego release), it'll come as somewhat of a surprise to see him playing a caring, loving and thoughtful husband. Rather than send Chiharu away in shame (and basically sentencing her to suicide), Tenzen bends over backwards to concoct a fairly ridiculous and risky scheme to clear her name, knowing all the while he will have to give her up anyway. Raizo pulls it off, along with Tenzen's conflict over his honor as a samurai versus his love for his wife. While the final extended swordfight between Tenzen and the 'five bastards' (now down to three) with their allies doesn't quite count as the ultimate exercise in exhausted swordfighting (that would go to Raizo's character in "The Betrayal"), it might be a solid second, with Raizo seemingly returning from the dead several times. Katsu makes an impact in his role as Nakayama/Horibe Yasubei (one of the few of the 47 Ronin that possessed a measure of sword skills), approaching it with an intensity, steadfastness, and seriousness that plays well against Raizo's more romantic character. This is a slimmer, younger, and fitter Katsu than the one seen in Zatocihi and Hanzo the Razor, but his swordplay is still among the best of its day. Maki Chitose plays the role of the duo's love interest Chiharu somewhat differently than the typical 'stoic bushi woman' seen in most samurai dramas. While she's certainly not helpless (interposing herself between Tenzen and her brother's follow up sword attack, and then leaving the family and making her own way in the world), Chiharu is the type of woman who will hold extended conversations with her husband's proxy (a small 'doll festival' groom doll she made as a child) while he is away. She's very sweet, feminine and sentimental, the type of woman most men feel drawn to protect-making the assault upon her even more odious. Her and Tange make for a well matched couple, and this gives their final meeting after the climatic battle increased impact.

Director Mori Kazuo is best known for directing Katsu in many of the "Zatoichi" films along with some of the "Shinobi No Mono" films and Zatoichi's 'predecessor', "Shiranui Kengyo". There are some nice directorial touches-the 'bride and groom' dolls made by Chiharu as a child foreshadow and follow many of the events that happen to her and Tenzen. When Tenzen tests his one-armed sword skills by slicing a sheet of paper into fluttering pieces, the scene transitions to fluttering snow. It's a nice touch how Tange's arm being cut off intersects with Asano's assault on Lord Kira in the Shogun's castle (the incident that sparked the 47 Ronin's revenge)-his palanquin is turned away at the gates of the Shogun's castle when he bleeds on the path the Imperial Envoys will be taking to meet with Asano and Kira (mirrored by Asano's crime of spilling blood in the castle). It's also a wonderful ironic touch that Yasubei, who wanted to join the Uesugi (Kira's relatives), instead joins the Asano clan as a second choice, making him Tange's nominal foe in war and romance. Rather than a typical Daiei film, Samurai Vendetta actually looks more like a film produced by Toei Studios, using the brightly colored studio backdrops and stylized swordfighting they were noted for. Even the soundtrack brings to mind Toei's more sentimental and sweeping scores. Many of the scenes appear to be shot on Toei soundstages and sets-it would be interesting to delve into the production history of the film. Since color films were still somewhat uncommon in Japan, it might simply be that the color was accentuated for its novelty value. It works well at times, such as the slow transition of the background from normal daylight to a sickly purple when Tenzen loses his arm to Chiharu's brother.

As goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway), Animeigo provides a stellar translation and English subtitle options for every level of Japanese proficiency from zero to expert. There's the usual package of extras-the film's Japanese trailer, bios of the major players (stars, director, writers), and a large image gallery of both B/W and color images. The program notes are sort of a Jekyll/Hyde situation this time around. They've been split up into program notes on the 47 Ronin (which Animeigo encourages everyone to read to give background on the film) and general cultural/film notes. The notes on the 47 Ronin were unfortunately based on the information found on Wikipedia. Wikipedia's account in turn was largely taken from James Murdoch's 'History Of Japan', a three volume set written in the early 1900's. Murdoch's account of the Ronin was based on oral legend and puppet plays/novels rather than historical fact. Noted Ronin scholar Professor Henry Smith states that "The Murdoch account is no longer of anything but historiographical use". It gives the LEGEND of the 47 Ronin, but NOT the historical facts. Perhaps this works for the disc, since the story is based on the legend, but the notes are not accurate from a historical standpoint. On the other hand, the cultural/film notes given in the second section are excellent-one of the most extensive and involved sets that Animeigo's done to date.

Samurai Vendetta certainly lives up to its name-there are more vendettas here than can be struck down with a katana. Raizo and Katsu are always welcome and any film with both of them more than deserves a look. Carrying through on the popular Japanese theme of two men being linked by fate, it supplies drama, action, and an interesting take on the 47 Ronin story. You can get "Samurai Vendetta" directly from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store. And it won't cost you an arm and a leg to see these two legends of samurai cinema.

**-note this film has NOTHING in common, story or otherwise, with the 'Hakuoki' anime that's currently knocking them dead in Japan

All photos courtesy and copyright 1959 Kadokawa Pictures
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Heroes To Some, Villains To Others-Animeigo's Shinsengumi Chronicles



Few groups tend to raise such disparate images as the Shinsengumi, the Kyoto based group of swordsmen sponsored by the Shogunate that fought Imperialist agents (as well as other disruptive forces and crime in general) in Bakumatsu Japan. Heroes to some, villains to others, and a wildly popular subject for anime and manga, the Shinsengumi rarely fail to create strong opinions among those with an interest in Japanese history. Animeigo's newest release, 1963's "Shinsengumi Chronicles" (based on the first part of a print trilogy by Shimozawa Kan), takes a far more realistic look at the group than does Animeigo's other Shinsengumi offering, Mifune Toshiro's "Shinsengumi-Assassins of Honor" (1969). The film we reviewed last week had two big name stars as its headliner (Samurai Vendetta with Ichikawa Raizo and Katsu Shintaro)-this one does as well, this time featuring Raizo and Wakayama Tomisaburo (billed here as Jo Kenzaburo). It's an excellent film from Daiei that features the distinctive down-and-dirty realistic style the studio's samurai epics were noted for-and a style perfectly suited for its subject matter.



Virtually all the characters in Shinsengumi Chronicles are based on its real life members and events. Raizo's character is Yamazaki Susumu, a member that largely functioned as a spy and because of his education also as an intermediary in 'polite society' such as the Imperial Court. Wakayama fills the shoes of the group's second leader, former farmer and Tennen Rishin-ryū sword instructor Kondo Isami. Most of the group's core members are on hand as well, including the first chief Serizawa Kamo, his deputy Niimi Nishiki, Kondo's second in command Hijikata Toshizo, sword prodigy Okita Soji, spearman Harada Sanosuke, and 'traitor' Todo Heisuke. The other main character is Yamazaki's woman, Shima (Fujimura Shiho). Shima functions as the voice of reason that continually tries to turn Yamazaki from the Shinsengumi towards a normal life. Interestingly enough, while Yamazaki was a doctor in real life, he is presented here as a ronin with no purpose in life and Shima is given the role of physician. Being based on a trilogy, the movie takes the Shinsengumi only so far as the Ikedaya Incident-an incident, however, that proved to be the group's finest hour and defining moment.



The Shinsengumi are cast in a poor light from the very beginning where a shot of a crucified man displays a placard that the group has killed him for his crimes against the state. While it's found out later he was killed by a ronin working for Imperialists from the Tosa clan to frame their enemies, it's clear the Shinsengumi have already inspired fear and loathing among many of the citizens of Kyoto. When ronin Yamazaki Susumu comes across a Shinsengumi member dying from wounds incurred when slaying an Imperialist, he takes the man's netsuke and attempts to return it to the group and inform them of what has happened. Initially he's repelled when the Shinsengumi's chief, Serizawa Kamo, snorts in disgust and walks off. However, he becomes spellbound when Serizawa's subordinate, Kondo Isami, displays concern and invites him to talk. Kondo had earlier restrained and apologized to Kamo on behalf of a geisha who had inadvertently insulted the drunken Shinsengumi chief. Yamazaki recognizes that Kondo, although a former farmer, embodies the true spirit of the samurai and believes that he has found a leader worth following. He joins the group despite the pleas of his woman and childhood friend Shima, who believes the Shinsengumi are nothing more than a group of murdering thugs who are worse than the men they hunt down.



From here the film focuses on the early history of the Shinsengumi and Yamazaki's inner conflict as he attempts to reconcile harsh reality with the ideals he thought that lived in Kondo. The extortion of money from merchants, the elimination of Kamo's faction and Kondo's rise to power, the casual murder of a sumo wrestler and the assassination of the police officer that arrested a Shinsengumi member for the crime, and the torture of suspected enemies all raise doubts in Yamazaki as to whether this is the life he wants to pursue. Yamazaki is seen as being a potentially traitorous element in the ranks, and is first set up to commit a murder by Hijikata Toshizo and Okita Soji. They then use this as a way to have him removed by the police, but Yamazaki is saved by Kondo's intervention with their sponsors, Aizu han. The situation has put the Shinsengumi's future in doubt, and it might take an extremely daring act to put them back in the good graces of the Shogunate-a chance that might be provided by the scheming Imperialists of Choshu han. Despite his misgivings, the distrust of his comrades, and his discovery by Tosa assassin Okamoto Kyuzo (who had slain the ronin hired by Tosa to frame the Shinsengumi early in the film), Yamazaki sets out to discover the plot-and does so, facing down the conspirators alone while the bulk of the Shinsengumi is attacking the wrong building. With enemies numbering not only the Imperialists but also among his own allies, will Yamazaki be able to survive?



Raizo's performance as Yamazaki Susumu allows him to display an emotional range that was absent in some of his films-Yamazaki is an idealist in a world full of characters on both sides with seemingly no standards. Yamazaki is caught between the honor he believes is embodied in Kondo Isami and the dishonorable acts he is required to perform as a Shinsengumi member. The moral dilemma at times puts Yamazaki into the role of the 'deer in the headlights', frozen into inaction and confusion-even when his life hangs in the balance. Raizo excelled at roles such as this, even bringing an undercurrent of the 'frustrated idealist' to his most famous film role, nihilistic ronin Nemuri Kyoshiro. Yamazaki's attempts at espionage also bring to mind Raizo's roles as ninja Goemon/Saizo in the Shinobi No Mono series. Fujimura Shiho as Yamazaki's love Shima plays her role effectively, being the picture of Japanese womanhood-feminine, strong, and both supportive and critical as the situation calls for.



For the Shinsengumi's leader Kondo Isami there were few actors better suited for the role than Wakayama Tomisaburo. Kondo tended to let Hijikata Toshizo (his deputy) perform the actual administration of the group while he provided the strong, silent symbol that the group could use as their anchor. Wakiyama's best known for roles in which he has relatively little dialogue and for his precise and vicious swordsmanship, both being attributes that served him well in portraying Kondo. His rather gruff and unpolished appearance also helped define the character, a farmer-turned-samurai. Wakayama (like many chanbara stars) also had a lot of experience playing characters that had lofty ideals but were eminently pragmatic (most notably Ogami Itto from the Lone Wolf and Cub series) and provides the balance between Yamazaki's idealism on the one hand and the ruthlessness of ones like Hijikata and Okita on the other. This is perhaps best seen when he is confronted by Yamazaki over some of the group's acts and delivers his response while staring at the Shinsengumi's battle standard-the flag displaying the kanji for sincerity. His faith and confidence in Yamazaki shows that honor is indeed still alive within the ranks of the Shinsengumi.



Director Misumi Kenji helmed many other violent samurai action films, including entries in the Zatocihi, Shinobi No Mono, Hanzo the Razor, and Lone Wolf and Cub franchises. The fast pace and brutal violence evidenced in these efforts are also on full display in Shinsengumi Chronicles. However, unlike many chanbara directors, Misumi never hesitated to show sword duels for what they were-ugly, chaotic, and bestial. This is best evidenced in the closing minutes of the film where a lingering shot of corpses frozen in awkward positions amongst the post-Ikedaya carnage shows that there's little real glory in killing, even when it's for a greater good-particularly so when it's juxtaposed with the Shinsengumi wearily trodding off. Misumi traces the culture of violence through the development of the Shinsengumi's new members, most notably Yamazaki's aide, young Oshu. Oshu is almost childishly insistent on his wish to become a samurai-someone with status, someone important. When first donning his Shinsengumi 'colors' and thrusting his sword through his sash, Oshu is beaming like a kid getting his first toy-and when first killing a foe, only thinks of how this act will make him a man in the other member's eyes. This has interesting parallels to the mentality of US street gangs-as does the Shinsengumi's insistence that new members be 'tested' by slaying an enemy as soon as possible (or implicate themselves in one of the group's more illegal activities, making it tougher for them to go rouge). The allure and glamor of the gang life is underlined when Oshu buys a woodblock print of a valiant samurai-with that appeal symbolically exposed as false when his blood spills over it in the aftermath of a fight. And as shown towards the end when Yamazaki literally turns his back on Shima (his chance at a normal life) and never looks back, once you're in, you're in for good (that of course being one of the Shinsengumi's rules-no one could quit the group). The heat of the Kyoto summer also played an interesting part in the film-no doubt this was shot in summertime, because all the actors are in a constant sweat. This helped to further infuse their characters with the uncomfortable sense of edginess that summertime temperatures can bring.

Just as it did for another recent release, Samurai Vendetta, Animeigo has included two sets of program notes. One set covers the historical background for the Shinsengumi and provides a general overview of the situation during the Bakumatsu. The other set comprises the standard cultural and film notes. Happily, both are extremely well done and extensive, using solid scholarly books as sources (such as "The Emergence of Meiji Japan", a digest version of volume five of the "Cambridge History of Japan"). Viewers unfamiliar with the history of Japan at that time will find their enjoyment of the film to be greatly enhanced by reading the Shinsengumi set. Other extras include cast and crew bios, a still gallery, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for three other related Animeigo releases (Mifune's "Shinsengumi" and Raizo's "Samurai Vendetta" and "Sleepy Eyes of Death" series). The translations are as good as we've come to expect from Animeigo, including the bonus of a complete translation of the credits (something many companies releasing Asian films fail to do).

Shinsengumi Chronicles is one of the more accurate film portrayals of the historical group. It never hides the excesses or blemishes of its members but never simply writes them off as Shogunate thugs. Despite the infighting, extortion, and treachery the group was often noted for, when it came time to fight for their ideals, they were by and large the most effective and passionate group the Bakufu had to offer (and in many ways not much different from their Imperialist foes). Heroes to some, villains to others, but never boring-and with Raizo and Wakayama, a chanbara hound's delight. You can get a copy of Shinsengumi Chronicles direct from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store.

All images courtesy and copyright 1963 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc[/url]
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 3:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
New from Animeigo is the "Sleepy Eyes of Death" Collectors set, including entries five through eight of this fan favorite series starring Raizo Ichikawa. Get it at a reduced price HERE direct from Animeigo.



Here's the official press release:

"Raizo ICHIKAWA is back, in 4 more adventures of the nihilistic ronin Nemuri Kyoshiro!

#5 : Sword of Fire

When Kyoshiro, in a moment of weakness, saves the life of a woman being attacked on the road, he quickly finds himself entangled in a conspiracy involving a corrupt chamberlain, a wily merchant, the survivors of a pirate gang, and a missing treasure trove.

#6 : Sword of Satan

A little boy who just wants to be a carpenter is at the center of a plot that might topple -- or save -- a mighty Clan, and while the swords of some angry samurai may not cause Kyoshiro much trouble, the deadly wiles of two women may be more difficult to survive!

#7 : Mask of the Princess

Everyone's favorite sadist, Princess Kiku is back, and this time she's got a squad of Ninja to do her dirty-work. And after what Kyoshiro did to her the last time they met, this time she wants him to suffer -- really suffer -- before he dies.


#8 : Sword of Villainy


To avenge the death of their master, who launched an uprising to help the poor, his students hatch a plot to burn down Edo Castle when all the high officials are inside. To save hundreds of thousands of people who live near the castle, Kyoshiro finds himself helping the government he despises.

One of the most iconic and longest-running samurai film series of all time.

Starring the incomparable Raizo Ichikawa, “The James Dean of Japan”.

Based on the writings of legendary novelist Renzaburo Shibata.

Films 5-8 in a 12-part film series.

On Sale Now @ AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: February 1, 2011

Extra Features:
*Program Notes/Bios
*Theatrical Trailers
*Image Gallery

Technical Details:
UPC# 7-37187-01221-1
ISBN# 1-56567-546-0
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD5
Runtime: 331 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1965-66
MSRP: $79.98

Copyright:

©1965-66 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.

Warning: Contains Violence"
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
New from Animeigo is the excellent Tange Sazen film, "The Secret of the Urn". It's another Toei vehicle for the excellent Nakamura Kinnosuke and a personal favorite. Get it HERE at a reduced price and before the street date directly from Animeigo. Here's the official press release...



"After losing both an eye and an arm to treachery while on a mission for his clan, Samanosuke (Kinnosuke NAKAMURA aka Kinnosuke YOROZUYA) becomes a ronin who calls himself TANGE Sazen. When a stolen urn that contains the secret to a treasure worth a million gold coins falls into his one remaining hand, all sorts of villains, including a high-ranking Shogunate minister, plot to relieve him of his burden — and his life.

Unfortunately for them, TANGE has developed a unique and deadly one-handed fighting style, which means his enemies will have their hands full — at least while they still have their heads!

TANGE Sazen is one of Japan’s most popular samurai characters, the equivalent of Zorro or The Lone Ranger in the West.

• Starring the legendary Kinnosuke NAKAMURA
(Miyamoto Musashi, Bushido-The Cruel Code of
the Samurai)

• Directed by master Hideo GOSHA (Onimasa,
The Geisha, The Wolves)

On Sale Now @ AnimEigo.com
Official Street Date: April 12, 2011

Extra Features:
*Program Notes
*Bios
*Theatrical Trailer
*Image Gallery

Technical Details:
UPC# 7-37187-01469-7
ISBN# 1-56567-550-9
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Format: DVD5
Runtime: 91 min. plus extras
Audio: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Theatrical Release in Japan: 1966
MSRP: $24.98

Copyright:

©1966 Toei Co., Ltd.

Warning: Contains Violence, Treachery and Pottery"
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Animeigo's Sleepy Eyes of Death Set 2: Good...Bad...He's The Guy With The Sword



As a ronin dressed in black walks down a lonely road, a young woman approaches from the opposite direction. They pass each other without incident, but suddenly the ronin spins around. In one fluid motion he draws his sword, strikes the woman down, replaces the blade, and continues on his way as if nothing had happened. While this would normally mark him as the villain of the piece, this is the Sleepy Eyes of Death series. Here, the slaughter of an unarmed woman by protagonist Nemuri Kyoshiro (Ichikawa Raizo) is not only justified, but practically demanded by the audience. Good...bad...he's the guy with the sword (apologies to Bruce Campbell).

The Sleepy Eyes of Death Collector's Set Vol. 2, Animeigo's newest DVD collection of Nemuri Kyoshiro films (that's what we purists like to call 'em) collects films five through eight in the series:



5-"Sword of Fire"-Kyoshiro is reminded why he doesn't like involving himself in other people's problems when, after lending aid to a woman pursuing a vendetta (with the attendant promise of sexual favors afterwards), he becomes the focal point of a three way conspiracy involving pirates, the Todo samurai clan, and greedy merchant Narumi. When everyone seems to be a crook, how do you make sure they all end up getting what they deserve? Kyoshiro is particularly brutal towards women during the course of this film, as he sexually assaults virtually every one that has more than 10 seconds of screen time.

6-"Sword of Satan"-when Kyoshiro insults the pride of a fallen woman of status, he becomes guilt-ridden after finding out his harsh words drove her to suicide. Wearing her discarded Noh mask as a reminder, he sets out to help Tsurumatsu, a young boy she had been trying to protect. He's the illegitimate son of the Iwashiro daimyo and was spirited away from the clan when marked for death by supporters of the rightful heir. When the heir dies, however, the clan is desperate to reclaim him to avoid being disbanded by the Shogunate. One problem-the kid hates samurai and has no intention of returning. As if fighting an entire clan isn't bad enough, Kyoshiro also has to deal with yet another scheming woman. Orin is the sister of "Banzo The Flying Squirrel" (who attacked Kyoshiro and was killed). She misses no opportunity to attack, betray, and generally be a pain in Kyoshiro's ass.

7-"The Mask of the Princess"-returning from part four ("Sword of Seduction") is the disfigured Princess Kiku. Having been set up and humiliated by Kyoshiro in that film, she sets out to make him-and everyone he comes in contact with-regret ever having crossed her path. Kiku and her Bushu Hayate ninja group don't care how much collateral damage they rack up in trying to off Kyoshiro, and the body count is high. Did we mention there's a great Black Mass scene in this film that gives Kyoshiro another excuse to cut down a fallen Christian priest? While it has little to do with the rest of the film, it's still the high point. This one is particularly enjoyable for the excellent direction by Inoue Akira, but more on that later.

8-"Sword Of Villainy"-when the followers of an executed would-be reformer plan to burn down the city of Edo to retaliate, Kyoshiro finds himself in the uncomfortable position of siding with the Tokugawa Bakufu-a prospect usually anathema to him. This is somewhat of a throwback to the early 'Sleepy Eyes' films as Kyoshiro now has a flunky in hairdresser/burglar Tetsu. You really have to pay attention in this film, as the plots and alliances are complex and overlapping. There's also a subplot where Kyoshiro is a dead ringer for a deceased rebel leader, but curiously this thread seems to lead nowhere (other than to provide a reason for Kyoshiro to be drawn in).



Our favorite from the set is probably "The Mask of the Princess", primarily for all the excellent directorial touches given to the film by Inoue Akira. For what was basically a programmer, Inoue does some amazing things with scene composition and particularly framing. Whether actors are filmed through the torn paper panels of shoji screens or between the slats of wooden windows, it gives the viewer a sense of eavesdropping on the conversation and reinforcing their secretive nature. Inoue also puts Raizo off center in many shots, filling the viewer with expectations of having the empty side of the frame filled-but by what? The film is full of subtle touches like this and after watching it once for the action it wouldn't be a bad idea to watch it again for the artistry. The other directors (Misumi Kenji on "Sword of Fire" and "Sword of Villainy" with Yasuda Kimiyoshi on "Sword of Satan") also have their moments, such as Misumi's 'First Person Perspective' sword attack in "Sword of Villainy", putting the viewer directly in Raizo's sandals as he carves his way through a host of attackers.



Don't fret, though-these aren’t art films that will have you taking a nap ten minutes in. The swordplay, blood, sex, and depraved goings-on that everyone watches a Kyoshiro film for are on full display. From a Black Mass to a woman about to lose her face to acid, the Kyoshiro universe features things you won't see in your typical samurai film-including a nude female acrobat jumping off a bridge to escape her pursuers, just because she can. There are executions, suicides, horny Christian nuns, a princess with a passing resemblance to Two-Face, murder frame-ups, cross-dressing actors, body mutilations, ninja monks, whores with masks, serial killers, and sexual encounters interrupted by snakes. Talk about symbolic. As set out in the opening paragraph, Kyoshiro's not above ravaging any woman he meets, not to mention callously striking down an unarmed woman that he deems evil. And twice during these two films, rival swordsmen attempt to beat Kyoshiro at his own game-engaging him in duels where they are also using Kyoshiro's trademark Full Moon Cut. There’s rarely a dull moment in Kyoshiro’s life-and he thrives on the action. Having dispatched his foes in "Sword of Fire" and helped a couple of deserving souls escape, he warns the last of the conspirators not to spoil his good mood, or he’ll kill him.



Much has been written about Kyoshiro being 'nihilistic', uncaring, misogynistic, and inhuman. Well, it's hard to argue with any of that-and those are the points that have gained the character such a cult following. He's the counterpoint to the typical samurai film hero, who would never behave in a less than honorable fashion. However, as we brought up in our review of the first four films, Kyoshiro has a bit more depth than that-indeed, he continues to demonstrate that at heart he's a frustrated idealist. In "Sword of Fire", after finding out he’s been duped into helping out Nui (the woman supposedly pursuing a vendetta), he devotes his time to helping out the pirates that have been marked for death by Nui’s employer, the Todo clan. "Sword of Satan" shows his guilt over having taunted a woman into suicide, and lending his aid to her charge Tsurumatsu. Kyoshiro ransoms a young maid, Haru, from a whorehouse in "The Mask of the Princess" before she can be defiled and then sets her up with steady employment elsewhere-all with no benefit to himself. When she’s kidnapped, he sets out to rescue her and even throws down his sword to ensure her safety. Finally, "Sword of Villainy" sees him do the same for the female acrobat, not to mention trying to save the city of Edo from being burned down. Kyoshiro’s humanity is buried deep, but he’s not the totally cynical, hateful monster he likes to pass himself off as (which also points to a large dose of self-loathing over his status as the half-breed son of a fallen foreign Christian-a self loathing that displays itself in Kyoshiro slaying the fallen Western missionaries he meets throughout the series).

Extras for the films are a bit on the light side, although there are several different trailers on each disc from Animeigo's extensive 'samurai cinema' line. The original trailer for each film is included as well, and some of these contain alternate footage and different takes than the finished film (notably the trailer for "Sword of Fire"). There are a few short bios and also cultural and historical 'liner notes' for each film. They're a bit on the sparse side this time around (although taken as a whole, they add up to what's on a typical Animeigo release). The notes for "Sword of Villainy" are more numerous and give some excellent information that even we hadn't known about (such as the Kuzunoha fox story and related poem, along with the rebellion of Oshio (Chusai) Heihachiro). The extras are rounded out by image galleries with stills from each film. As everyone has come to expect, Animeigo's translations are the best in the business-easy to read with lots of options to tailor the film to any individual's level of Japanese language skills. Even better for hardcore chanbara hounds, they also translate the entire list of credits. The films were taken from the re-mastered Japanese originals, with nice depth of color and cleaned up sound. The packaging even includes little touches like a fold out image on the cardboard inner DVD holder (and also a shot of the famous 'strobing effect' for Kyoshiro's Full Moon Cut). It's a solidly produced complete package.

This is Animeigo's second volume of "Sleepy Eyes" films, and a fine successor to the first. They've now released eight of the Raizo "Nemuri Kyoshiro" films, with four more to go. The four remaining films are the most bizarre, violent, and original of the dozen that Raizo starred in (after Raizo's untimely death, the series went on to a thirteenth and fourteenth film with a different actor in the lead role-while these are usually reviled by fans, we find them to be pretty good-it's just that Raizo defined the role to such a degree that he made anyone who came after look bad). So if you'd like to see Trail of Traps, Hell Is A Woman, In The Spider's Lair, and Castle Menagerie, make sure to get this set first. Not only will it convince Animeigo to release the final four, but you'll add four more classics to your present collection. We can't recall the last time Animeigo released a lemon (probably Demon Spies)-they've been on a roll for quite a few years now. Things are a bit rough for DVD producers in the current economy, so picking up this set will help keep the string of classic chanbara films coming. You can get a copy directly from Animeigo HERE or from Amazon through the SA Store.

All images copyright and courtesy 1965-66 Kadokawa Pictures Inc
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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 14, 2011 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Messin’ With The Shogun-Animeigo’s “The Secret of the Urn”



It’s not often one can enjoy the pleasure of seeing the Tokugawa Shogun being taunted face to face by a crazy man who’s also just exposed his closest advisor as a crook AND broken up his formal chanoyu (tea ceremony). Tange Sazen not only does it with style from the top of a towering pagoda, but manages to survive the occasion intact. Well, relatively intact-he’s still missing an arm and eye, and there’s more trouble to come. The self-styled God of Death is still out there somewhere-and Fuji probably needs to put her clothes back on. It seems messin’ with the Shogun is only one of the many pleasures to be found in Animeigo’s new DVD release of Toei Studio’s 1966 “The Secret of the Urn”.

As brought up in Animeigo’s press release, the character of Tange Sazen is to Japan much like the characters Zorro and the Lone Ranger are to the West. Created by Fubo Hayashi (one among many pen names of Hasegawa Kaitarou), he appeared in all sorts of stories that have been adapted dozens of times on the big screen and Japanese television. Some have even featured a female version of the character. And of these, no story has been filmed more than the story of the ‘Million Ryo Pot’-the ‘Earless Monkey Urn’ (as Animeigo’s notes explain, this refers to a pot with broken handles-although the pot in this film obviously never had any). These films usually include Sazen’s ‘support group’-shady singing teacher Fuji, thief Yokichi, and Sazen’s unwanted kid sidekick, Chobiyasu.



Sazen wasn’t always a one eyed, one armed monster-when the film starts, we see him as Tange Samanosuke-a straight laced, clean cut retainer of the Nakamura fief in Oshu. Samanosuke’s been summoned by his superior to the scene of a brutal interrogation. A castle maid has admitted under torture that’s she’s a spy, and that she isn’t the only one. As the best swordsman in the clan, Samanosuke is ordered to kill the remaining enemy agent. This is to be the fateful assignment that transforms him into Tange Sazen-and it’s best experienced without further spoilers. All we’ll say is that Samanosuke should really be more careful about who his friends are…Time passes and we learn that the Shogun is having the Nikko Tosho-gu shrine of the Tokugawa’s ‘founding father’, Ieyasu, refurbished. This is an extremely expensive undertaking and would normally be assigned to a wealthy clan. However, his councilor Guraku advises him to have the Yagyu clan (yes, the same clan that screws over Ogami Itto in the “Lone Wolf and Cub” films) foot the bill. Guraku knows that the clan won’t be able to afford it through normal means and will have to resort to drawing upon their secret horde of a million ryo. The evil councilor intends to steal this for himself and then have the Yagyu disenfranchised by the Shogun for their failure, grabbing their position and status. When informed of their alleged ‘honor’, the Yagyu realize the only way to raise the money is to access the clan’s hidden treasury-which can only be found through the symbols located inside the ‘Earless Monkey Urn’. Yagyu Genzaburo transports the urn to Edo and is set upon by a large group of Guraku’s disguised ninja-not to mention two thieves, Fuji (played by Awaji Keiko) and Yokichi, who have learned about the plot. This results in a spirited game of ‘hot potato’ involving the urn and a running sword battle where none of the three parties is able to keep their hands on the relic-instead, it’s given to Chobiyasu (a young boy sleeping in a boat) by a dying Yagyu samurai with instructions to bring it to the Yagyu in Edo for a reward. A fifth party is introduced into the fray when Chobiyasu runs into an abandoned shack for cover. Pursuing ninja are cut down by the shack’s occupant-Tange Sazen. The contrary Sazen decides that if the urn is getting so much attention, it’s something he wants to hold on to-and when Fuji and Yokichi offer him a quick escape in a boat, he happily accepts.



Of course, Fuji and Yokichi waste no time in trying to get rid of Sazen and acquire the urn for themselves. While Fuji seduces Sazen, Yokichi attempts to spirit the urn away-but he’s foiled by his own clumsiness and stopped by the angry one-armed swordsman. When Fuji pulls a Western pistol on Sazen and demands the urn, he simply uses it as a shield and dares her to shoot-a stalemate, at least until Guraku’s ninja lurking outside decide to crash the party. There’s another running fight, this time across the rooftops, and when the last ninja is dispatched Sazen still has the urn. Seemingly having forgotten his fight with Fuji and Yokichi, he tells them they need a new hideout. Chobiyasu, hoping to get the urn back for himself, follows them to their new lodgings in an abandoned temple taken over by thieves. Here Sazen strikes up a strange friendship with the criminals, winning their trust and support when he gives them a cut of the proceeds when he sells a fake ‘Earless Monkey Urn’ to Guraku. He also settles into a relationship with Fuji, who finds herself attracted to him despite his scarred face and missing limb. However, when Hagino (Sazen’s love from his days as Samanosuke) turns up and recognizes him, Fuji and Sazen have a falling out and she decides to sell the real urn to Guraku. Guraku’s managed to have the Yagyu invited to a formal chanoyu given by the Shogun and ‘requests’ they bring the fabled Earless Monkey Urn (which was a gift given to them by Tokugawa Ieyasu). He knows that not being able to produce a clan treasure gifted to them by the first Tokugawa Shogun will be the final nail in their coffin. Taiken, Guraku’s ninja chief and the self-styled “God of Death”, has also disguised himself as Sazen and killed several Yagyu samurai-focusing the Yagyu’s recovery efforts away from Guraku.

At this point, Sazen is opposed by the forces of the Yagyu and Guraku as well as by Fuji, Yokichi, and Chobiyasu. Legendary Shogunate Magistrate Ooka Echizen has also organized a large force to oppose Sazen, having been warned by Guraku of a planned ‘assassination attempt’ on the Shogun during his tea ceremony (which is just an attempt to set up Sazen when he attempts to recover the urn). Sazen is seemingly readying himself by pounding down sake, distraught over both the appearance of his former love and his argument with Fuji. And the God of Death awaits his turn to cross swords with the one-armed monster. While it doesn’t look like there’s any way this situation can end well for the people that deserve it, it seems that Sazen has a few tricks left up his empty sleeve-not to mention Nakamura Kinnosuke’s badly camouflaged arm.

Star Nakamura Kinnosuke gives the film much of its appeal. Mirroring his award-winning performance in “Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai”, Kinnosuke in essence plays two characters in the film: the steadfast, loyal and dutiful Samanosuke and the wild, disrespectful and violent Tange Sazen. As was the case in “Bushido”, it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor. His Sazen is a real pleasure to watch, with outrageous mugging to the camera and an over-the-top vocal delivery that perfectly captures the essence of the character. Sazen’s insane grin and lifted eyebrow never fail to elicit a laugh as he prepares to go off on his enemies. Animeigo gets our thanks for bringing Kinnosuke to the attention of Western jidaigeki audiences, now taking his rightful place beside the other J-Stars better known here such as Mifune Toshiro, Nakadai Tatsuya, Wakayama Tomisaburo, and Katsu Shintaro. Check out Kinnosuke in other films like “Bushido”, “Musashi”, or in his turn as Ogami Itto in the TV version of “Lone Wolf and Cub” (where, in our opinion, he made a much better Ogami than Wakayama did in the film versions). For our money, Kinnosuke’s the premier figure in the jidaigeki tableau. While other stars could match his intensity, few displayed the type of range he routinely did.



Also interesting in a limited part is Amatsu Bin, whose stern look and commanding physical presence made him a heavy in quite a few films (most notoriously in yakuza films). Often playing a ninja or gangster, Bin is best known for portraying master ninja Fuma Kotaro in the TV series “The Samurai/Shintaro the Samurai”, a series that was to 1960’s Australia what the Batman TV series was to the United States. Here he plays Taiken (while we don’t know what kanji this uses, it can be translated as “Great Sword”), the leader of Guraku’s ninja and Sazen’s deadliest enemy. He styles himself “The God Of Death” (translated as “The Grim Reaper” by Animeigo) and provides the film with one of those Zatoichi/Sanjuro style ‘second endings’. Amatsu provides Sazen with a foe worthy of his sword.

It is somewhat odd seeing director Gosha Hideo directing what was for all intents and purposes a programmer. However, it came fairly early in his directing career and displays much of the humor and light touch seen in his first film, the excellent “Three Outlaw Samurai” (which one would hope Animeigo picks up at some point). Gosha’s films were to become increasingly darker and more serious from this point on with entries such as the two “Samurai Wolf” films, “Goyokin”, “Tenchu”, “The Wolves”, “Hunter In The Dark”, “Onimasa”, and “The Geisha”. Often featuring Tatsuya Nakadai as their star, these films form the basis of Gosha’s reputation in the West (although we tend to prefer his early work). Gosha allows Nakamura to chew the scenery and doesn’t meddle with the proven Tange Sazen formula. His directorial style enhances the film without trying to draw attention to itself-there are many instances of cleverly framed shots (such as shooting the actors through torn shoji screens) and framing (using pillars in the foreground to set Sazen and Fuji apart from the band of thieves). He’s particularly good at setting up running battles, with the four way battle for control of the urn mentioned earlier being the most exciting example. Little touches such as the camera lingering on a shelf stocked with urns lined up in order of descending size before panning down to Sazen (in this case symbolic of how the urn is beginning to lose its importance in Sazen’s mind at the moment) are throwaways to be discovered in repeat viewings.



Comparisons can be made between Sazen and the subject of our last review, Nemuri Kyoshiro from the “Sleepy Eyes of Death” series. While on the surface the black clad Kyoshiro’s cool and detached manner (with a sword style to match) is completely unlike the white clad Sazen’s boisterous personality and frenzied swordplay, underneath there are plenty of similarities. Both Sazen and Kyoshiro display contempt for authority and the two-faced world of the samurai where outrages are routinely excused by a hypocritical code of conduct. Common townsfolk (even those on the ‘wrong side’ of the law) and the rare samurai that does indeed embody the spirit of the warrior are the people these two find worthy of their help. The swordsmen also share some physical characteristics-spiky hair instead of the standard samurai chonmage along with wearing a close fitting simple robe, dispensing with a regular samurai’s hakama and kataginu. Let’s not forget that Ichikawa Raizo (Kyoshiro) also played a one-armed swordsman in "Samurai Vendetta".

As mentioned earlier, this is just one among many films that feature the story of Sazen and the Million Ryo Urn. Out of the eight or so versions we’ve seen (including a 1920’s silent version and an 80’s version featuring Nakadai in the starring role), this is probably our favorite. However, the 1935 version (“Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth One Million Ryo”) holds a special place in our hearts. Largely eschewing the tragic circumstances of Sazen’s situation and the whole ‘noble ronin’ shtick (which does get quite tiresome in jidaigeki at times-we like our ronin evil and the Bakufu good), star Okichi Denjuro portrays a grouchy but ultimately comedic Sazen, making for that rarity-a good samurai comedy that doesn’t rely on farce. Okichi was a huge star in Japan in that era-you might have seen him as Yoshitsune’s pal Benkei, bailing out his lord by faking his way through a recital of “The Subscription List” in Kurosawa Akira’s “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail”. The actress playing Fuji in this film (Kiyozo) is an adorable sweetheart as well, and the film has a warm and humanistic feeling much like the recent film “Hana”. It’s sad that the film’s director, Yamanaka Sadao, fell into disfavor with the Japanese government and was shipped off to the Manchurian front where he died at the young age of 28.



Animeigo’s translation is again top notch with viewing options for every level of Japanese proficiency. The translation includes the complete cast and crew from the credits, something that’s rarely seen in releases from other companies. The print looks great with a good depth of color and nice clean sound. Extras include the film’s theatrical trailer, some short bios, and a few stills. The historical notes are interesting but only seem to cover the first third of the film. Since both the Yagyu family and Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen were taken from history (as well as being favored subjects of many other film series and television shows), it’s curious that they weren’t brought up in the notes. One interesting note points out a scene where you can clearly see Sazen’s “severed” arm alive and well. Another extrapolates the value of one million ryo via the going rate of cheap prostitutes!

This film is back-to-basics old-fashioned 60’s chanbara fun with little of the dark tone that Gosha’s later films veered into. Watching a cackling Sazen berate a befuddled Shogun while safely ensconced on top of a pagoda is the closest thing in a Japanese film to the ‘French taunter’ from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The entire film is laced with kinetic energy and a good-natured disrespect of authority. See for yourself how much fun messin’ with the Shogun is. “The Secret of the Urn” is another great vehicle for Nakamura Kinnosuke and a classic chanbara effort from Toei Studios. Pick up a copy of “The Secret of the Urn” at a discount direct from Animeigo HERE or from Amazon through the SA store.

All images copyright and courtesy 1966 Toei Co. Ltd
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