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Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

Yup, this is actually mostly a comedy

Director: Yamanaka Sadao
Writers: Mimura Shintarô
Date: 1935

Genre: Jidaigeki, Comedy
Description: A pot worth a million ryo, looking for the item, humanity, different and unique characters, whatever it takes, what is really valuable

Cast: Ôkôchi Denjirô, Kiyozo, Sawamura Kunitaro, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: There are tons of Tange Sazen films, but this is the oldest one still extant, I believe.

Tange Sazen is a lazy samurai bum working at a Tokugawa-era Japanese arcade, where customers routinely waste their money trying to hit absurdly large targets with a small bow and floppy arrows. Across town, the infamous Yagyu clan is in crisis–they need cash quick! Luckily, there is an old legend that states that older generations of the Yagyu had stashed a million ryo-worth of gold in the mountains. The tricky part: the map is inside an old pot, and no one knows where the heck it is after Genzaburo’s wife sells the crummy old antique to a local dealer. Naturally, Sazen eventually gets involve in this mess. Not a bad deal, since a million ryo is a pretty sweet pay-off if he can outsmart the Yagyu and find the pot before they do.

Sounds like an epic McGuffin hunt with swordfights and counterplots galore, but you really should expect more from Yamanaka. More than the pot itself, the story revolves around man’s desires, what he would do to fulfill those desires, and the discovery of what is truly valuable. In the hunt for the prized piece of pottery are well developed, unique characters–I doubt you will find many others like them. The hero himself is described, and describes himself, as a monster, a demon, an outcast of society. There are moments when he gives credence to this claim, especially with such a fearsome scowl. Yet he also allows himself moments of tenderness, moments of wit and comedy, and even kindness. In the 30’s, when all heroes were noble samurai warriors with distinguished service records and an irreproachable character, Tange stood, awkwardly, as a symbolic anti-hero. The lady proprietor of the arcade, the young child who gets mixed up in the mess, Yagyu Genzaburo who must find the pot to save his clan, his amusingly paranoid wife.. all memorable and authentic characters that inhabit Tange Sazen’s accurately depicted setting.

Surprisingly, the music also stands out at a time when few directors in Japan were using sound quite as assuredly as Yamanaka. In fact, sound would not become ubiquitous until years later. Light and airy during funny bits, an extra punch during the action, a calm background fuzz during intermediate scenes, yet cohesive and never a sore thumb. The film also uses a good number of cuts, angle changes, and close ups to highlight the action, even though there aren’t really many fights. What there are, however, are reassessments of goals and desires; I suppose it’s safe to say that most of the main characters actually go through some kind of change during the movie. Sazen’s still a wise-crackin’ badass though.

Did I mention Sazen only has ONE eye and ONE arm? It’s a good thing he looks like he could be the frontman for any tr00 satanic black metal band:

Ôkôchi Denjirô as Tange Sazen

He can name his band Tange Sazen and the Hairy Potters

No wonder no one wants to fight with him.

You really won’t find many films from this age quite as good, quite as satisfying as this one. It should be clear by now that Yamanaka Sadao is one of my favorite directors, and even though only 3 of his films have survived, all of them are wonderful. A handful of directors have tried tackling Tange Sazen and his adventures, but even after 70 years (the most recent remake was in 2004) Yamanaka’s effort is still the best.

things to take note of
Ôkôchi Denjirô’s movements and posture, and his absolutely hilarious swordstyle
Sazen’s sassy smart-assyness
The comedy
The introspection?

best moment
It’s a pot, so why not use it as a… ?

why you should watch this
One of the most completely satisfying jidaigeki, with character development, comedy, action, a little suspense, and even insight into man and his desires

rating: 9.1

Plot: B+
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B
Music: A
Entertainment: B+

similar movies, maybe:
I don’t think any of the future Tange Sazen films are as good as this one, but some stand-outs are:
Matsuda Sadatsugu’s Tange Sazen: Mystery of the Twin Dragons
Gosha Hideo’s Ken fu! Hyakumanryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen: One Million Ryo (stars Nakadai and Natsuyagi Isao!)
Gosha Hideo’s Tange Sazen: Secret of the Urn (stars Nakamura Kinnosuke and Tamba Tetsuro!)

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing (1960)

Yes those antacids were good for nothing 😦

Director: Yoshida Yoshishige
Writers: Yoshida Yoshishige
Date: 1960

Genre: Drama, Crime
Description: A bunch of good for nothing, spoiled brat and his friends, making the wrong decisions, trying to make a life worthwhile, punks, Japanese new wave, disenchanted youth

Cast: Tsugawa Masahiko, Takachiho Hizuru, Kawazu Yusuke, Yamashita Junichiro, Mishima Masao, Chino Kakuko

Crew of note: Music by Kinoshita Chuji (Yoshishige’s brother)

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Yoshida Yoshishige’s first film. He is often considered an important figure in Japanese new wave cinema

Jun is part of a gang of misfits, literally good for nothings with absolutely nothing to do, one of which is a spoiled brat with a rich father. And what do you do when you’re bored? You party, go to the beach, mess around with people, and try to steal from your father. Not exactly a great idea, but at least it makes things exciting.

It is interesting how directors such as Oshima and Yoshida started out. During the early 60s, the Japanese movie industry was undergoing a crisis of sorts, with revenues dropping due to the introduction of the television. In an attempt to find new talent and create new, more interesting and contemporary films, young directors like the two above, were given opportunities at studios like Shochiku. Strange, when you consider how strict these companies were, and how they were known for limiting their directors’ creative freedom (from forcing scripts on them to rejecting ideas).

This generation of film makers, however, was finally given freedom to pretty much do as they pleased (at least, for the first few years until studios became more suspicious of the content of their films). Yoshida pumped out three films in his first 2 years in the director’s chair, and Rokudenashi is his first.

At the age of 27 and coming from a literature background, Yoshida turned to cinema because of his ire over the “stuffy academic milieu” (from Cahiers du Cinéma 1970), hoping to be a voice against the “predominantly industrial, commercial cinema.” A film about good-for-nothings is naturally a great topic, don’t you think? But what makes the film unique is that the use of the title, “Rokudenashi”, is not so much a condemnation, but a simple description of the way these young men want to be. If you expect a moral lesson or a cry of social concern over the degradation of the attitude of the young, well, you ain’t getting any. Instead Yoshida delivers a punch in the gut and a healthy dose of ride cymbals, existentialism, and poor decisions.

I’d like to propose that, perhaps, Rokudenashi is more an allegory for the incoming brand of film makers that were slowly starting to emerge as the best and brightest in Japan. “Fuck you politically correct studio executives, we’re going to do this shit anyway.” Life may be meaningless and absurd, but being cool, listening to cool music, and making out with chicks sure beats being lame and boring.

It’s hard to argue with Yoshida with pictures like this:

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing (1960)

Tokyo is empty and he needs a toilet. SUSPENSE ENSUES

This is an important film to see for Japanese new wave fans as an introduction to Yoshida’s style and influences. And if this movie can be summed up in a sentence, it will surely involve his glossy, jazzy style and translation of the French new wave. For some reason, he is not quite as well regarded as some of his contemporaries such as Suzuki, Imamura, Oshima, Masumura. But after seeing this film, it will be difficult to argue against the fact that this was one of the the most visually and musically stunning films in early Japanese new wave.

things to take note of
The jazzy jazziness
Some strange angles that are really brilliant
Tracking shots and movement

best moment
The screencap above

why you should watch this
Yoshida’s first film
Contains some brilliant shots; the one above is probably in my top 10

rating: 7.8

Plot: C+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B+
Music: B+
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Oshima Nagisa’s Seishun zankoku monogatari
Masumura Yasuzo’s Kuchizuke

Bored at work, I decided to run a couple of famous directors through WordPress’ search engine to see how many articles have been written about the following people. I typed the names without quotation marks to maximize the number of finds. Here’s what I got.

As of: Friday, May 29, 2009

hiroshi shimizu 141 results **
yasujiro ozu 432 results **
hideo gosha 34 results **
hou hsiao hsien 497 results
shinji aoyama 60 results *
nagisa oshima 249 results *
kon ichikawa 187 results
masaki kobayashi 202 results **
yamanaka sadao 19 results **
kenji mizoguchi 310 results
masahiro shinda 38 results *
eiichi kudo 6 results **
yoshishige yoshida 21 results
kaneto shindo 53 results
kinugasa teinosuke 37 results *

* – My site is shown first
** – My site is shown in the first page

In comparison (a.k.a directors I thoroughly dislike)
ron howard 8,354 results
zhang yimou 1,170 results
ang lee 4,990 results

Of course, I didn’t expect the first set of directors to out-search the more famous names… but I thought that there would at least be a good number of cinephiles/cineastes/etc on the blogosphere (I use this word in jest, btw). For some reason I think these people would feel compelled to write about less known and under-appreciated artists. I guess that’s why I started this thing in the first place. Oh well! It’s nice seeing this site on the first page of results, at least.

Five Legendary Chambara Actors and Their Respective Fighting Styles

Orochi / The Serpent (1925)

If you think you can kick this poor guy's ass, you're dead wrong

1. Onoe Matsunosuke – Kicking Ass Kabuki-Style
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style similar to Kabuki, with slow, simple movements that are meant to make the hero look cool, and everyone look incompetent
Why It’s Cool: This style emphasizes proud and powerful stances, with minimal strikes to dispatch enemies.
Seen In: Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)
Possible Special Attack: The Honorific Strike – Onoe goes on a Kabuki monologue full of honorifics and complicated archaic Japanese words, which can confuse even well-versed Japanese Kabuki fans, and suddenly unleashes an unexpected strike to his opponent’s abdomen.

Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)

His frown looks a lot more deadly than that fake looking prop

2. Ichikawa Utaemon – Dancer of Death
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style somewhere in between Kabuki and dance, but much quicker
Why It’s Cool: Probably the most beautiful style to look at, until Ichikawa removes your eyeballs with the tip of his sword.
Seen In: Dokuro / The Skull (1927)
Possible Special Attack: The Ballet Disemboweler – Ichikawa performs successive Fouetté en tournants with two blades and his arms extended, dispatching multiple enemies at once and creating a giant mess for his servants to clean up later.

3. Arashi Kanjuro – Slippery Samba Swordfighter
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style with complicated footwork and movement that makes him very elusive
Why It’s Cool: Arashi looks like he could be better than Cristiano Ronaldo with a football. Hopefully, he’s allowed to bring his sword on the pitch and chop him up good.
Seen In: Kurama Tengu (1928) and Kurama Tengu: Kyôfu jidai / The Frightful Era of Kurama Tengu (1928)
Possible Special Attack: The Seven Slash Shuffle – Move like a butterfly, sting like a rabid wolverine. Arashi quickly steps around his opponent repeatedly, burying seven slashes to his enemy’s two legs, two arms, liver, neck, and head.

Kurama Tengu (1928)

According to GameFAQs it's R1 + Square + 360, followed by L2 + L3 + Triangle and finish off by throwing your controller at your brother

4. Bando Tsumasaburo – The Manic Panic Frantic Fantastic
Distinctive Feature: A realistic fighting style where Bantsuma stumbles, slips and makes mistakes, yet somehow still kicks everyone’s ass.
Why It’s Cool: He looks like he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing sometimes, yet somehow prevails if only because he’s a badass. If only life were that simple.
Seen In: Orochi / The Serpent (1925) and Gyakuryu / Backward Flow (1924)
Possible Special Attack: The Panic Attack – Bantsuma goes apeshit crazy and f-in kills everyone near him randomly and with no real plan. This move also allows him to deflect all roof tiles and large sticks thrown at him while making funny faces.

Orochi / The Serpent (1925)

I seriously need to find a picture with those flying roof tiles

5. Ôkôchi Denjirô – Slapstick Samurai
Distinctive Feature: A style that employs jumps, awkward semi-acrobatics, and weird postures and movements, either to throw the enemy off or to make him die laughing
Why It’s Cool: Chicks love guys with humor, so I’m assuming Ôkôchi gets a lot of action.
Seen In: Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi / Jirokichi the Rat (1931) and Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935) [No acrobatics, ’cause he’s only got one arm, but that’s one funny looking stance if you ask me]
Possible Special Attack: Banana-peel Bash – Ôkôchi throws a banana peel at his opponent’s feet, and then stabs him after he slips and weeps in embarrassment.

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

Am I too late to audition for Scar in The Lion King?


Though all five chambara superstars are more or less contemporaries, there is an obvious evolution in the way these films portray swordfights. Stemming from the tradition of Kabuki, where most early actors were trained, most early films retained not only its acting style, but also the way action was depicted: beautiful, strictly choreographed, but rather slow and predictable. Eventually, pioneers of new fighting styles emerged, some as a reaction to Kabuki tradition and their desire to break away from it (see the extras of Digital Meme’s Talking Silents series for more information). By the time the golden age of chambara came along (50s – early 70s), all films used more realistic sequences and styles, with films such as Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari highlighting the brutality (and not the supposed beauty) and harshness of fights-to-the-death. Still, its always interesting to look back at where things came from, and we should all be glad some of these films are still with us today.

For more information about some of the above mentioned movies, see: this feature.

5 Must-See Silent Chambara

Orochi / The Serpent (1925)

Not seen: Roof tiles being thrown at him

Jidaigeki and chambara (click for more info about jidageki and chambara) hold a special place in Japanese cinema–in fact, in all Japanese art from painting to Kabuki and Noh–dating back to the silent period. It can be considered THE Japanese genre film, because of its historical, cultural, and thematic uniqueness from other representative cinema. During the silent period, many of the films produced in Japan were of this sort, although very few of them survive today. Here are 5 (okay, 7) examples:

1. Futagawa Buntaro – Orochi / The Serpent (1925) and Gyakuryu / Backward Flow (1924)
Starring chambara superstar Bando Tsumasaburo, both films follow similar plots: a good man wronged by those with power, and now must now find a way to survive. Both films were considered to have “rebellious” or “dangerous” ideas, using an outlaw fighting the system as the hero of the films.

Gyakuryu is the more emotional of the two, but Orochi is superior as a chambara. Bantsuma goes on to fight against a horde of hatamoto/policemen, who even throw tiles (those are real tiles being thrown, not silly props. Obviously, Bantsuma was a badass in real life as well) and whack him with sticks. Both movies discuss the ironies and hypocrisies inherent in the samurai way, which would eventually become chambara genre conventions. Orochi is also considered one of the first films to feature a realistic fighting style.

2. Ito Daisuke – Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi / Jirokichi the Rat (1931)
Starring Ôkôchi Denjirô as Jirokichi, a Robin Hood-type folk hero of Japan. After stealing from several palaces and landing on The Shogunate’s Most Wanted List, Jirokichi is on the run from the cops. On a boat ride somewhere, he meets Osen, a girl with a manipulative criminal brother trying to extort money from her. Jirokichi, being a nice guy, decides to do something about it.

Ito Daisuke is considered one of the founding fathers of chambara. It’s not hard to see why, with a film with such innovation as this. Some of the highlights include: the riverboat fight, the police chase with lanterns, and the showdown between Jirokichi and Osen’s brother. Ito employs dozens of extras, filling frames with police and common folk. Cinematographer Karasawa Hiromitsu, in order to capture sequences in the middle of the action, tied his camera to his body (cameras back then were HUGE btw) and ran through the action. He probably came out with tons of bruises and pains, but for his effort he was able to get some of the best action sequences in silent movie history.

Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi / Jirokichi the Rat (1931)

(Policeman + lantern) x 100 = Brilliant idea

3. Shirai Sentaro – Dokuro / The Skull (1927)
Ichikawa Utaemon stars as Christian warlord trying to preserve his people’s way of life. Sadly, assassins are on the way, and he has to defend himself (and his pimped out wardrobe) and save his people.

Though poorly preserved and short at 42 minutes, Dokuro contains one of the best fight scenes in chambara, possible ever. Ichikawa Utaemon takes on an onslaught of assassins inside a temple, in what can be considered more of a dance than an outright battle. The entire scene is amazingly choreographed; strikes are precise, movements are untentative, and movements are fluid. Unlike many B-grade chambara where the bad guys are stumbling idiots who couldn’t hit the ground and swing their swords like toddlers carrying rattles, the men in Dokuro know what they’re doing. And despite the “dance-like” nature of the choreography, the scenes are surprisingly realistic. The dark rooms contrasting Ichikawa’s white garb inside an ornately decorated temple create a beautiful atmosphere. Certainly a fight to remember.

Dokuro / The Skull (1927)

This is not an episode of The Simpsons

4. Makino Shozo – Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)
Onoe Matsunosuke is Jiraiya, a ninja with magical (I think?) powers, who turns into a giant frog. Yup. You heard me right: a giant frickin’ frog. Who eats people and spits them out terrified. If that’s not enough of a reason to see this, well, you must not like chambara. Or frogs.

This is perhaps the oldest chambara–and one of, if not the oldest in Japanese film–still extant. Though the acting is somewhat lacking, and the action still following the kabuki tradition, this is still an interesting movie to see if only for its age and the giant frogs. Amusing cutting creates the illusion of Onoe disappearing and reappearing like a magical ninja, and the way he makes fools out of everyone is quite amusing. Onoe is also considered the first Japanese film star, and this is, I think, his oldest existing film. In fact, I’ve yet to find anything else.

Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)

In 1921 the Japanese knew how to make movies cool: giant samurai ninja frogs

5. Yamaguchi Teppei – Kurama Tengu (1928) and Kurama Tengu: Kyôfu jidai / The Frightful Era of Kurama Tengu (1928)
Starring Arashi Kanjuro as Kurama Tengu, a samurai who dislikes assholes and is loved by kids everywhere. Kurama Tengu is actually a very popular legend, and has been the subject of many films, and even a 2008 NHK series. In the first film, Tengu is embroiled in a conflict between the Shinsengumi, The Emperor’s Lions, and the Mimawarigumi. They are all after Tengu, and set a trap to finally capture him. In the second film, an impostor is trying to tarnish Tengu’s good name with the people, and he must find out who the impersonator is, and deal with him accordingly.

Folk tales and folk heroes are always interesting subjects for movies, and very few folk heroes have received as much attention from film makers such as Tengu (though I’ve only seen three, including these two). What makes him unique from other heroes, though, is the fact that children seem to love him, which actually appears as an important part of the two movies. Between Tengu getting captured, a jailbreak, impostors, a whodunnit, and of course, swordfights, there is a lot that happens, and over-all the movie is quite enjoyable. Although Arashi Kanjuro wasn’t quite as famous as the other actors mentioned above, he had, arguably, a longer and more interesting tenure in film, appearing in roles in films by Kudo Eiichi (Jyusan-nin no shikaku / Thirteen Assassins), Nakagawa Nobuo (Jigoku / Hell), Masahiro Makino (Junko intai kinen eiga: Kanto hizakura ikka / The Red Cherry Blossom Family) and Imamura Shohei (Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubo / Profound Desire of the Gods). Arashi also dons the “samurai hoodie”, which samurai actually never wore, but is now commonly associated with spies, ninja and some samurai.

Kurama Tengu: Kyôfu jidai / The Frightful Era of Kurama Tengu   (1928)

When a kid in a g-string successfully breaks into, and someone out of, your jail, you've pretty much got no other option than seppuku


1, 2, 3, and 5 are available through Digital Meme.

Here’s a related feature: 5 famous chambara stars and their fighting styles.



May 2009