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Shokei no shima / Punishment Island

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

I love covers that give absolutely no clues about the movie. Like this one

Director: Shinoda Masahiro
Writers: Ishihara Shintaro, Takeda Taijun
Date: 1966

Genre: Drama
Description: Revenge, exile, flashback, juvenile delinquent, penal colony

Cast: Nitta Akira, Mikuni Rentaro, Iwashita Shima, Sato kei, Komatsu Hosei, Tonoyama Taiji

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Shinoda and Iwashita got married in 1967 after this film was released.

summary
Saburou, a man with a mysterious past, is on his way back to Kojima Island to look for Otake, a man with whom he bears a grudge. Through a series of flashbacks we discover his connection with the island and the man he is looking for, and why he has returned after 2 decades. There he meets Matsue, a bully from his past, Kuroki, an old teacher and Aya, a beautiful girl he once knew, before finally finding Otake.

review
If you like jidaigeki and yakuza eiga like me, then you’ve definitely heard of Sadojima (Nichiren was a famous exile there) or Abashiri Prison (of Abashiri bangai-chi fame, starring Takakura Ken) or a host of other nameless prison islands. The Japanese seem to enjoy throwing criminals into exile, and they even have a word for it: Shimanagashi (literally, island exile). Kojima, featured in this movie, is a fictional penal island for juvenile delinquents.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

They look so happy playing with a dead eel ;_;

It’s not hard to imagine why Saburou is returning to Kojima–the title is Punishment Island for cripe’s sake. And while it’s made clear from the very start that he’s there for some revengin’, it is the way Shinoda reveals Saburou’s tortured past through small, repetitive and overlapping flashbacks that makes this such a great movie. The plot develops slowly, almost painfully slow, as we feel Saburou’s escalating anxiety, almost a morbid excitement, that’s built up over years and years of waiting for the right time to come back. And once there, will he or won’t he?

The choice of having a totally anonymous actor in Nitta Akira to play the lead adds to the tension; his is a new face that we’ve never scene before, with strong, coarse features and an unknown past. The audience has nothing to recall about him even as an actor, and that mystery is a big part of what makes his character so compelling. His performance is chilling and intense; you can just imagine him being beaten and scarred as a child. Mikuni’s work as Otake is also brilliant as ever.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

Take note of that crutch. It will surprise you near the end

Last but not the least, the movie is stunning–which is pretty obvious given it’s Shinoda. Iwashita on a cliff with an undulating background; the long take at the end with a kanon statue on the table; the grayed and filthy children on the rocky hills; Kojima in the background as Saburou looks on from a boat; the many long takes and long shots; the isolation in every frame. An island is just a pile of rocks and yet Shinoda makes it seem so much more. There may be no walls and the ocean may seem traverse-able (how is this not a word?), but Saburou’s island of Kojima has kept him imprisoned even after 20 years.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

Kojima: a big big pile of rocks and murderin

conclusion
The way Shinoda stages scenes is a sight to behold. It is no exaggeration to say that the last major scene is one of Shinoda’s best, and perhaps it’s one of the earliest signs of his curiosity in using traditional performance art (Bunraku in Shinju: Ten no amijima; Kabuki in Buraikan; here just a stage play, and only really in the last scene) in his movies. This may not be the best place to start with Shinoda, but if you’ve seen his other films and enjoyed them, this will definitely be another blessing.

things to take note of
Amazing pictures of the island
The long shots
Isoooolaaaation

best moment
The last scene in the house and how amazing it is

why you should watch this
Another excellent Shinoda. That guy just never fails to impress me.

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Movies about islands and isolation? Uhm, Hadaka no shima / Naked Island?

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Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Yes, this movie is as serious as he looks.

Director: Yamamoto Satsuo
Writers: Hashimoto Shinobu, Yamasaki Toyoko
Date: 1966

Genre: Drama
Description: Medical drama, politics, success, greed, arrogance

Cast: Tamiya Jiro, T么no Eijir么, Tamura Takahiro, Ozawa Eitar么, Ishiyama Kenjiro, Takizawa Osamu, Funakoshi Eiji, Kat么 Yoshi, Kishi Teruko, Ogawa Mayumi, Fujimura Shiho

Crew of note: Produce by Nagata Masaichi. According to imdb, Setsuko Hara makes an appearance, but I didn’t notice her.

Runtime: 2 hours 30 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Zaizen Goro may only be an assistant professor at Naniwa University, but he has already made a name for himself in Pancreatic surgery. He has become something of a rockstar in the medical world, and many sing his praises. Professor Azuma, his superior, however, does not approve of his attitude towards their profession, and is at odds over who to nominate as his successor. The selection of the new professor reveals a rich and complex political world inside Naniwa University–each player will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Not exactly puppydog eyes

review
Yamamoto Satsuo isn’t that popular a name. Very few of his films are widely available, and most of them belong to a single genre: jidaigeki. This is the same director that helmed the first two Shinobi no mono (starring Ichikawa Raizo as Ishikawa Goemon) films, and the 16th Zatoichi. I was surprised, then, to discover that this amazing movie was directed by the same man.

I honestly thought this was going to be a borefest. I’d never seen a non-action film from this director, and I’d read that the film was heavy on the dialogue. While it is true that the characters talk, argue, and debate nonstop, the film is far from boring. In fact, the political world Yamamoto creates has a striking resemblance to politically-tinged jidaigeki. Japan’s feudal tradition, after all, continued well beyond the Tokugawa era. Replace labcoats with kamishimo (formal samurai wear), scalpels with katanas and Pancreatic surgery with… uhhh.. Pancreatic chopping-ups and you get pretty much the same movie in a different time.

Another great thing about this movie is its balanced portrayal of the different factions. Despite the fact that the audience will automatically gravitate towards Zaizen (Yamamoto presents him in the introduction of the cast and crew, and the first scene he looks like a heroic figure), each side is equally desparate, equally determined, equally dirty. Yamamoto obviously feels no allegiance to any of his characters, and the film benefits from his objectivity.

While the film does focus on the traditional Japanese politics inside Naniwa University, the film is also a compelling drama about man’s ambition: a young man’s ambition for the future, an old man’s ambition to be remembered, a ruler’s ambition to retain the status quo, an idealists ambition to do what is right, etc. Each of the principal characters has a different personality and motivation, but most, if not all, end up acting the same way.

*Warning: You will see guts and gross stuff.

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Guts? He's beginning to regret that second bowl of udon

conclusion
There are many possible meanings one can interpret from the film–political or personal–and maybe it is dependent on the viewer’s own personality. Yamamoto, of course, only subtlely suggests that there is something to learn from the film’s events. It’s unclear if the characters even learn anything from what just happened, but by the look on their faces, it is hard to imagine they haven’t. This is, by far, Yamamoto’s best film, and certainly a memorable one from the 60’s.

things to take note of
Microcosm of Japanese politics
Who is the real protagonist? Who is the hero of the film?

best moment
Guts!
Inspection time x2
Tamura Takahiro’s puppydog face
Zaizen sr. is humiliated
The outcome?

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Professors get their own catwalk in Naniwa University, apparently

why you should watch this
Probably the best Japanese medical drama evar? Or at least from the 60s
Complex political world inside the frame of a university

rating: 9.2

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

similar movies, maybe:
Medical dramas focusing on politics? Not a lot honestly. But another good doctor-y movie is Masumura Yasuzo’s Akai tenshi / Red Angel.

Daisatsujin orochi / The Betrayal

Daisatsujin orochi / The Betrayal (1966)

Raizo looks pissed, which is never good news for bad guys

Director: Tanaka Tokuzo
Writers: Hoshikawa Seiji
Date: 1966

Genre: Jidaigeki, Chambara
Description: Samurai life sucks, corrupt officials, traitors and backstabbers, a hard life

Cast: Ichikawa Raizo, Yuchigusa Kaoru, Fujimura Shiho, Nakaya Ichiro, Naito Taketoshi

Crew of note: Music by Ifukube Akira

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: This is a remake of Futagawa Buntaro’s “Orochi” originally starring Bando Tsumasaburo back in 1925.

summary
A samurai enters the Minazuki clan’s school of Issaka Yaichiro to challenge the master to a fight, but he is currently away. Kobuse Takuma (Raizo) receives him, and the samurai, from the Iwashiro Clan, calls him into a duel. Kobuse refuses, and the samurai leaves. On his way home, however, he is followed by two members of the Minazuki clan and is slayed from behind.* His clan discovers his murder, and calls for the perpetrator to be arrested and punished, whoever he may be. A Minazuki clan official, Kobuse’s soon to be father-in-law, proposes a solution/cover-up: Kobuse should take the blame and disappear for a year while he tries to iron things out. Obviously, this doesn’t work out.

review
Dude, being a samurai sucks balls. I think there have been enough movies to prove this point. For some reason, movies about how samurai life was terrible seem to be of higher quality, of greater interest, indeed, are usually better than movies about cool and badass samurai. I’m looking at you Ogami Itto (you’re still cool though).

Daisatsujin orochi is a remake of one of the original movies with that premise, the similarly named Orochi** from 1925. The stories are pretty similar (though not exactly the same especially the ending), but seeing both is by no means redundant. In fact, seeing the two versions is probably more enjoyable than seeing just one.

So see it. Daisatsujin orochi isn’t a very famous film, and that’s unfortunate. It has a good story, great acting, beautiful black and white cinematography (using a lot of somewhat unconventional shots, maybe you’ll notice), and music by Ifukube (which means it’ll be great, you know). A good movie, until about an hour or so. I’m just too lazy to explain. Then BAM! Raizo draws his sword and the inevitable final showdown begins. And, it’s pretty amazing.

The climax of the film is one of the most detailed, well planned and well executed ones I have ever seen. The integration of a variety of props (a water well and bucket, ladders, wooden boards, carts, ropes, different kinds of weapons), the use of superb still shots (the one where Raizo moves under a wooden railing, watch for it), Raizo’s swordfighting worthy of Bantsuma’s legendary status, etc are all pretty awesome. Long drawn-out fights usually tend to become redundant after a while, especially when the hero seems to never tire, but here, after wave upon wave of assailants, Raizo deteriorates, starting on his feet and eventually rolling around in the dirt. He becomes thirsty, his hair disheveled, his hand tense and uncooperative, his body exhausted and his face in agony. It’s not only a fight, it is a transformation, an epiphany for Kobuse.

Warrior vs Snake painting

My computer refuses to make screencaps or I'm just very very lazy

conclusion
A majority of chambara fans (especially those who love samurai for their “exoticism”) probably just watch for the slicing-and-dicing, and really don’t care about the nuances of culture and history. This is a film that can be appreciated by that lot, and also by those who have a more serious, more academic interest in samurai life on film. How this isn’t as famous as some other chambara from the 60s is beyond me, because this is clearly one of the best. Maybe even Raizo’s best performance.

things to take note of
Amazing climax
Similarities with Orochi (1925)
The realism and detail of the climax, and Raizo’s acting
The importance of pride (Denshichiro’s resolution)
Some amazing shots in there too
Ifukube’s subtle but brilliant score

best moment
The climactic super-fight obviously

why you should watch this
A great remake of a classic chambara
I lost count of how many people Raizo ends up killing
These “samurai life sucks dude” movies are always interesting

rating: 8.7

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

similar movies, maybe:
Orochi (1925), obviously.
Other “samurai life sucks dude” movies such as Harakiri, Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu, etc.

* It is deemed cowardly to attack a samurai from behind or without his knowledge. This is pretty much the reason why in most one-vs-many battles the assailants behind the lone samurai are simply standing around. Without properly engaging and acknowledging each other in combat, it’s considered plain murder and not a duel or a legitimate fight. So, you know, they aren’t standing around coz they’re idiots. They’re actually following bushido.

** Since I’m unlikely to write a whole review for Orochi (it’s included in a feature about classic chambara though), I’ll squeeze in a little trivia here. The title sort of doesn’t make sense (orochi means snake or serpent) without an explanation. Originally, the title of the film was supposed to be something like “Outlaw” or “Rebel”, but Japanese censors refused to allow an anti-government, anti-establishment outlaw to be considered a hero. Futagawa decided to give the film its name to describe how Bantsuma moves (slithering and sliding) like a snake, and how even in death a serpent still looks pretty menacing. This is according to renowned film historian Sato Tadao, so I’m not pulling this outta my ass. Also, I’m the one who added this trivia on imdb.

Abare Goemon / Rise Against the Sword!

Abare Goemon / Rise Against the Sword! (1966)

Nope not a samurai movie

Director: Inagaki Hiroshi
Writers: Ide Masato, Inagaki Hiroshi
Date: 1966

Genre: Jidaigeki
Description: Farmer uprising, samurai are assholes, one man leads a revolution

Cast: Mifune Toshiro, Otawa Nobuko, Sato Makoto, Ryo Tamura, Hoshi Yuriko, Nishimura Ko, Kato Daisuke, Hirata Akihiko

Crew of note:

Runtime: 101 mins
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Nope, Goemon is not a real person

summary
Goemon is the leader of the Shinobu clan (more like village), a village of farmers and peasants. They are at odds with the Asakura Clan of samurai, who impose heavy taxes and treat the villages like dirt. In response, all the local tribes have formed an alliance to defend themselves from the abusive samurai. The Asakura Clan, in an attempt to quell their rebellion and gain control of the entire region, tries to enlist the aid of the villages to defeat the neighboring Enjoji, who are also samurai that no one seems to like.

review
Despite the fact that I consider Inagaki incredibly inconsistent and his grand epics sometimes sappy or hollow, I still find myself quite drawn to watching his movies. This is an Inagaki film after all so you all know what to expect. At the very least there’ll be battles right?

Well, Abare Goemon gets it right. Which is funny, because while “Inagaki Hiroshi” and “samurai jidaigeki” usually go hand-in-hand, this one’s actually about farmers, and the samurai are the bad guys. Normal people rise up and wage war against an oppressive ruling war clan. Who doesn’t love an underdog story?

One of the main strong points of the film is Goemon himself. He’s a pretty wacky character. He’s rough, vulgar, violent, ill-tempered, ill-mannered, and insensitive. Yet he’s also intelligent, an great strategic and tactical mind, an inspiring leader, and a great comedian too. There are times when he’s obstinate and stubborn, but there are moments when he is understanding and humble, often making jokes at his own expense. He can be quite a brute, yes, and for much of the film he’s actually pretty hate-able especially with the way he treats his brothers. But he’s also a great hero, and this mixed bag of traits makes him very human, indeed, very likable at the close analysis.

Mifune in Abare Goemon

Wacky!

It is also interesting to see the similarities between samurai culture and that of the Shinobu farmers. It’s obvious that there are more differences, but there are also some things that apparently never change. Discrimination, double standards, greed, oppression.. it seems that as long as people are different in some way, these things will persist. But the farmers are a kinder people compared to the samurai apparently, and unlike the rigid customs and traditions of bushido, change is possible in their culture. Actually, maybe that’s just Goemon who, for all his hatred of the samurai, is actually rather similar to them.

Except that he kicks their butts.

Mifune in Abare Goemon

Wacky! part 2

conclusion
I liked this a lot. Even though Inagaki uses the same tricks he’d been using decades, for some reason it just worked a whole lot better in the context of farmers. With a hero like Goemon, who is, by far, one of Inagaki’s most interesting and memorable characters, it is impossible not to rally to the side of the farmers and cheer for the ruin of the Asakura clan. Funny, action packed and with a great Mifune performance, this film has all the best elements of Inagaki’s war epics and few of the shortcomings.

things to take note of
Goemon’s conflicts and contradictions
The double standards
Differences and similarities between militant famers and samurai

best moment
Mifune raids a castle, and looks like a character from Dynasty Warriors / Samurai Warriors (the games) while doing so.

Mifune in Abare Goemon

Reminds me of Ma Chao from Dynasty Warriors actually

why you should watch this
Mifune’s Goemon is a pretty interesting character
Great battle sequences as usual
Farmers vs Samurai

rating: 8.3

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Inagaki epics, I guess!

Samurai Revolution Trilogy:
Juusan-nin no shikaku / The Thirteen Assassins
Dai satsujin / The Great Duel
Ju-ichinin no samurai / Eleven Samurai

Kudo Eiichi - Samurai Revolution Trilogy (1963 - 1966)

Obviously, there will be tons of people with swords

Director: Kudo Eiichi
Writers: Ikegami Kaneo, Kunihiro Takeo, Suzuki Norifumi, Matsudaira Norimichi
Date: 1963, 1964, 1966

Genre: Chambara, Jidaigeki
Description: Dudes go assassinating, evil politicians, cruel lords, justice beyond the law, revenge

Cast:
– Kataoka Chiezo, Nishimura Ko, Uchida Ryohei, Arashi Kanjuro, Satomi Kotaro, cameo by Tamba Tetsuro, Natsuyagi Isao, etc.
– Satomi Kotaro, Kawarasaki Choichiro, Hira Mikijiro, Inaba Yoshio, Yamamoto Rinichi, Munakata Nami, Ohki Minoru, Osaka Shiro, Abe Toru, Otomo Ryutaro, Kato Go, Kataoka Chiezo
– Natsuyagi Isao, Satomi Kotaro, Nambara Koji, Sato Kei, Suga Kantaro, Nishimura Ko, Otomo Ryutaro, etc.

Crew of note: Music by Ifukube Akira.

Runtime: 125 mins + 119 mins + 95 mins = 339 mins or 5 hours and 39 minutes.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Three different assholes, three different assassinations. Though the three films are similar in their main premise (be a jerk official and there’ll be some assassinatin’), there are variations on the theme.

In Juusan-nin no shikaku, the Shogun’s younger brother, Lord of the Akashi clan, rapes a woman and kills her and her husband over the affair. It becomes quite clear in the first 5 minutes that the lord is rotten and foul, and to save Japan from his rule, 13 samurai take it upon themselves to rid the world of this menace.

In the next film, Lord Yutanokami Sakai is pretty much your average politician, and by that I mean he was trying to set up a puppet shogunate with himself as ultimate mastermind, a.k.a. the “regent”, by influencing the choice of the shogun’s successor to some obscure relative whom he had sway over. Of course, this pisses off a bunch of “rightful” samurai, who swear to stop the plot.

Finally, in the last film, we get a straight-up revenge story. Lord Noriatsu is an asshole (I think it’s clear all the villains here are), who trespasses on Oishi territory killing a wandering peasant while on a deer hunt. Lord Abe of Oishi spots the madman and scolds him, warning him to go back to his own land before things get messy. Being the asshole that he is, Noriatsu sends an arrow into Abe’s head, striking him dead. Obviously, his vassals want revenge.

Natsuyagi Isao

Natsuyagi Isao. I assume this is the third film. I.. honestly don't remember anymore?

review
Kudo Eiichi sadly didn’t have much sway over the studios, unlike his more famous contemporaries. Aside from TV work, he was pretty much stuck with doing studio-assigned jobs with about as much freedom as an Economy class airplane seat. Which is, really, very unfortunate because the three films now remembered as his “Samurai Revolution Trilogy” are some of the most beautifully shot chambara out there.

Of course, you’re probably more interested in the action, and oh boy, this one really satisfies your bloodlust, although a majority of the goodness is crammed in the ends. Most of the films follow a similar outline, and make it necessary that we understand, somehow, what the assassination is about and how they’re going to do it. The planning process is half the battle, and the movie dedicates as much time in following the assassins on their preparations for the epic showdowns. It’s a cruel, cruel world, and Kudo’s heroes are equally subject to man’s faults and weaknesses. In fact, despite on a quest for justice, many of the protagonists might as well be as bad as their intended victims. The second movie is the darkest, bleakest of the three portraying the good guys as.. well, not very good at all. This surprisingly makes the story even more interesting, and the conclusion even more satisfying.

Ju-ichinin no samurai / Eleven Samurai (1966)

Did I mention there were bamboo cannons?

All three films finish with three of the most drawn out (in a good way?), complicated, messy and gruesome battles from 60’s chambara. These guys aren’t Mifunes or Nakadais that can dispatch foes with one clean strike; they stumble, make mistakes and often miss their target. That isn’t to say that they flunked kendo class, but killing’s never as pretty as many Golden Age movies make them look, and the zankoku* jidaigeki of the 60’s (such as the previously reviewed Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari) are as refreshing as a Bloody Mary before lunch. Which is to say: very much so!

There is also quite a bit of a history behind these films (do some research, dudes), and it’s interesting how Kudo tries to create his plausible historical epics. Many of the officials and lords in the film are real people, and Kudo’s suggestion of “what may have happened” can actually make sense. Though unlikely, they are about as historically probable as fiction gets.

Not that it matters, as long as people get chopped up to bits, right?

I don't remember where this is from?

Or, possible, people blown to bits

conclusion
Sure, the three movies are a little too samey in their plots and timelines (official does evil stuff – plan the job – get in some trouble – execute the plan – finale), but they are all great action movies with interesting twists and explosive swordplay. Their respective final scenes are reasons enough to watch these films, as they try to match Shichinin no samurai’s ambition in creating a huge climax, only with a much more gruesome, merciless taste. You might not remember the story long after watching (I had a tough time making those shitty summaries 馃槮 ), and you probably won’t remember any of the characters (except ones of famous actors), but you’ll definitely remember the action, the bloodshed, the excitement of sword ripping flesh and the satisfaction of an assassination done successfully. Well, sort of.

Samurai Revolution Trilogy

This is a metaphor for how I always seem lost and rambling while writing reviews. 馃槮

things to take note of
The history behind each movie
The differences between each film (because they are kinda the same?)

best moment
Their respective final showdowns
The EXPLOSION?

why you should watch this
Contains some of the best action sequences in chambara which are meticulously planned and excellently shot
Great example of this zankoku jidaigeki thing

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
I already gave you three and you still want more?
Samurai / Samurai Assassin directed by Okamoto Kihachi, which is also integrated into history quite interestingly

*Zankoku pretty much means “cruel”, therefore, “cruel period film” characterized by realistic bloodshed, dark characters and.. well, cruelty I guess

genres

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