Jidaigeki is a huge genre. It’s the Japanese genre film, and from the beginning of their cinema all the way up to the 70s, made up a significant portion of movie releases in the country. Everyone knows about Shichinin no samurai and Seppuku, and a lot of people already know about Goyokin and Inagaki Hiroshi’s epics. But there are still tons of treasures to be found, and well, I consider it my personal mission to try and see every jidaigeki and chambara still extant and available. Crazy, yes. Fun, definitely.

Here are five for your enjoyment:

Sengoku gunto-den / Saga of the Vagabonds (1959)

Possibly the worst samurai movie poster I have ever seen

Sengoku gunto-den / Saga of the Vagabonds (1959)
Director: Sugie Toshio
Cast: Mifune Toshiro, Tsuruta Koji, Tsukasa Yoko, Uehara Misa, Chiaki Minoru, Hirata Akihiko, Shimura Takashi

Summary:
Mifune plays Rokuro, a famous thief/outlaw out to make a buck. He meets Jibu (Chiaki), a local bandit leader and his men when they hear about a shipment of gold being escorted by Lord Taro to an influential warlord. They join forces to make with the gold, but Rokuro outwits Jibu and steals the gold himself. Taro, disgraced by the loss of his cargo, sets out to recover it, but his scheming brother (and his adviser) blackmails him and casts him as the perpetrator. Serendipitously, Rokuro and Taro meet in a bar one day, and Rokuro, inspired by Taro’s good and honorable nature, vows to help him return the gold that he had stolen and right the wrongs caused by his theft.

The Good Stuff:
– Chiaki Minoru as a horny and always outwitted bandit leader
– Robin-Hood-esque hero in Taro and Rokuro
– Kurosawa Akira co-wrote the script
– Mifune being very Mifune

The Best Stuff:
– Somewhat long for a jidaigeki at two hours, but with a long and eventful plot, lots of important characters and a pretty good conflict, is always exciting and fun.

O-Edo shichininshu / Seven from Edo (1958)

A Tokugawa era high school yearbook?

O-Edo shichininshu / Seven from Edo (1958)
Director: Sadatsugu Matsuda
Cast: Ichikawa Utaemon, Azuma Chiyonosuke, Okawa Hashizo, Fushimi Sentaro, Otomo Ryutaro, Satomi Kotaro, cameo by Shimura Takashi

Summary:
Utaemon stars as Katsukawa, a low ranking samurai famous for his righteousness and penchant for butting into other people’s business. When he discovers that one of his superiors, Lord Tatewaki, is trying to unscrupulously gain more territory, he calls on his loyal comrades to to help him reveal the plot and stop it.

The Good Stuff:
– Every website with a summary uses the exact same summary for some reason. Actually this is kinda irrelevant?
– The eponymous seven are all unique and distinguishable characters

The Best Stuff:
– Utaemon being all hero-y as usual!

Yoi-dore musoken / Drunken Sword (1962)

Actually, Rodney Dangerfield sounds like a pretty badass name (see comment below)

Yoi-dore musoken / Drunken Sword (1962)
Director: Sawashima Tadashi
Cast: Ichikawa Utaemon, Satomi Kotaro, Konoe Jushiro, Azuma Chiyonosuke, Sakuramachi Hiroko, Okochi Denjiro

Summary:
Tetsunosuke (Ichikawa) is a doctor-samurai who also owns a fencing school (weird?). Actually, he’s also somewhat of a crackpot doctor, who charges almost nothing for consultations and home remedies. This starts to piss off the other local doctors, who conspire with rotten yakuza who have also had run-ins with Tetsunosuke in hopes of getting rid of him. Obviously, this being an Ichikawa Utaemon film, he’s just too smart and too good to be beat.

The Good Stuff:
– There’s actually a lesson in here too, which we learn along with his assistant
– Doctors plotting with yakuza against another doctor. I don’t think this has ever happened before?

The Best Stuff:
– Utaemon in latter years, especially in comedic roles, reminds me of a samurai version of Rodney Dangerfield. This makes absolutely no sense at all.
– Lots of action, and with no one to help him, Utaemon usually has to take on multiple enemies

Kaii Utsunomiya tsuritenjo / The Ceiling at Utsunomiya (1956)

Dear Cover Model,
Looking creepy =/= good spy technique

Kaii Utsunomiya tsuritenjo / The Ceiling at Utsunomiya (1956)
Director: Nakagawa Nobuo
Cast: Ogasawara Hiroshi, Tamba Tetsuro, Tsukushi Akemi, Egawa Ureo, Mishima Masao, Numata Yoichi, Sugiyama Hirotaro

Summary:
Tokugawa Iemitsu is in power, but certain daimyo on the side of Tadanaga want him dead so that his younger brother can ascend to Shogun. Iemitsu is currently on his way to Toshogu Shrine in Nikko (a beautiful place that everyone should go to), and of course, a foul plot is afoot. In order to reach Nikko, Iemitsu must pass through utsunomiya, and Chamberlain Kawamura and his daimyo are plotting to assassinate the shogun. Here they are constructing a lavish castle, and conscript local artisans and carpenters to do the job. It looks like everything’s going according to plan, but Ryutaro, a shogunate spy sent to check on affairs in Utsunomiya, gets wind of the plot (after getting tangled up in his own affairs). Now he must figure out what the plan really is, how the Utsunomiya will do it, and how he can stop it.

The Good Stuff:
– Lots of interesting an unconventional (for chambara anyway) plot twists
– The first time Nakagawa introduces something ghostly, I think?
– A hilarious palanquin chase
– Interesting history lesson

The Best Stuff:
– Amazing! messy final battle inside the castle

Hakuoki / Samurai Vendetta (1959)

Based on this cover, the girl should be at most 4'2. She's not; did the postermaker think having a tiny love interest is more exciting?

Hakuoki / Samurai Vendetta (1959)
Director: Mori Kazuo
Cast: Ichikawa Raizo, Katsu Shintaro, Maki Chitose, Kagawa Ryosuke, etc.

Summary:
Yasubei (Katsu) bumps into an official of the Asano clan while stumbling on his way to a fight between his fencing school and its rival. Tange (Ichikawa) witnesses the fight (it turns out some of his clansmen are involved), but decides not to intervene, impressed with Yasubei’s skill and character. In order to settle the matter, the two schools decide to each expell their best student, Yasubei because of his involvement, and Tange because of his passivity. They continue to meet in strange circumstances–for a young woman, during an avenging, etc.–and become friends, but eventually, they join the opposing factions involved in the 47 Ronin tale, Yasubei with Asano and Tange with Kira. Love triangles, rumors, avengings, and swordfights ensue.

The Good Stuff:
– Script was written by Ito Daisuke
– Katsushin and Raizo together again
– Semi-accurate historical account of Nakayama Yasubei, member of the famous 47 Ronin

The Best Stuff:
– Raizo with one arm and a bum leg takes on a bunch of avenging samurai
– Great story and character interaction between Katsu and Raizo

Advertisements