Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari / A Cruel Tale at the End of the Tokugawa Era

Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari / A Cruel Tale at the End of the Tokugawa Era (1964)

Time to play spot the chambara regular

Director: Kato Tai
Writers: Kunihiro Takeo
Date: 1964

Genre: Chambara
Description: Shinsengumi, honor and justice, revenge, cruelty, true purpose of the Shinsengumi, murders, death, revisionist history?

Cast: Okawa Hashizo, Nishimura Ko, Otomo Ryutaro, Uchida Ryohei, Kimura Isao, Nakamura Takeya, Kawarazaki Choichiro, Fuji Junko

Crew of note:

Runtime: 99 mins.
Color: Black and White

This is a movie set in the ranks of the Shinsengumi, and you’d benefit more from researching about them a bit, since there are a lot of good movies based on them. In this one, a cowardly man with no skills with a sword begs his way into the Shinsengumi with raw manly balls. Taking every opportunity he can get, he soon becomes the troop’s semi-official head-chopper, executing newbies and veteran offenders alike. Some members become jealous though; they deride him for his dastardly work. Even his new girlfriend, one of the clan’s nurses/attendants, begins to doubt the kindness she saw in him in the beginning.

No frills here. No complex metaphors, vast political statements, heavy handed sentiments. This movie is about the Shinsengumi, the cruelty in their laws, and what happens to a man thrown into this mess. That’s it. And it’s fantastic.

The storytelling is strong, unrelenting, full of details but always with the purpose of moving the film forward while exploring its characters to reveal just about enough. It assumes you know at least a little about the history behind these events, however, and no longer wastes time in explaining everything. Though the story follows history and Shinsengumi lore for the most part, there is still room for great twists, told from a unique perspective.

What is most enjoyable about this film, however, is the chaos and bloodshed. Set pieces are meticulously planned. Each frame is full of action, and many of the best moments of action are taken in long, striding shots. Kato uses every bit of the black and white screen, and gives us some of the most brutal, bloody, and awesome scenes from 60s chambara. The most critical moments are also punctuated by a soft, subtle soundtrack, heightening the experience but never trying to steal the show. This is one of those movies that makes you wish you were born a samurai, despite all the crap these people had to deal with. Awesome.

I’ve got no complaints about this film. Even though it doesn’t have many philosophical implications, even though it doesn’t have much to say about the human condition, even though it’s just a story about a group of men in a time of turmoil, everything works. One of the best Shinsengumi tales, and a great chambara. Not quite a classic, but you can hardly find many better.

things to take note of
I really want to know who plays Okita Soji. He looks interesting.
This isn’t exactly a very deep film, so just watch the swordplay
Fuji Junko, legendary yakuza hottie, in an early role

best moment
Everytime there’s a fight, and set pieces with fights
The last scenes, of course!

why you should watch this
I love seeing chambara regulars in small roles (Nishimura, Kimura, Uchida)
Lives up to its name as a cruel and brutal tale of the Shinsengumi
Some of the best choreographed fight scenes in chambara

rating: 8.5

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Shinsengumi movies:
Okita Soji, directed by Deme Masanobu
Mibu gishi den / When the Last Sword is Drawn, directed by Takita Yojiro
Shinsengumi shimatsuki / Shinsengumi Chronicles, directed by Misumi Kenji
Ansatsu / Assassination, directed by Shinoda Masahiro
Shinsengumi / Band of Assassins, directed by Sawashima Tadashi