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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 😦 ), 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. 😦

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

Kiru / Kill!

Kiru! / Kill! (1968)

Possibly the most spoiler-free cover ever

Director:Okamoto Kihachi
Writers: Yamamoto Shugoro (novel), Murao Akira, Okamoto Kihachi
Date: 1968

Genre: Jidaigeki / Chambara
Description: Killing, assassinating evil, backstabbing, traitors, double crosses, complicated plot, subversion of the genre, friendship, the samurai

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takahashi Etsushi, Kubo Naoko, Kishida Shin, Tamura Nami, Nakamaru Tadao, Tsuchiya Yoshio, Tono Eijiro, etc. etc.

Crew of note: Score by Sato Masaru

Runtime: 114 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia:

summary
Genta, a world weary yakuza, meets Hanji, a farmer who has sold his land for a sword in order to become a samurai, along a dusty road of an abandoned town. They part, with the latter wishing to become employed by Ayuzawa Tamiya. It turns out that 7 samurai from his clan are hiding out in town in order to assassinate one of the clan’s higher-ups. Naturally, Genta gets mixed up with this bunch, and he must use his smarts to save them from themselves.

PS. The plot is too convoluted, and too exciting, to reveal in detail in a summary.

review
Whoahooo. This is one crazy movie. Part parody, part deconstruction of samurai lore, part epic chambara, there is just too much fun and intelligence in this movie not to recommend it to everyone. There will be some comments about how out of place or shallow its comedy is, but if you know enough about Japanese history, the chambara film genre and this film’s contemporaries, and Okamoto’s other films such as Akage, you will be able to pick up on a more substantial level of laughter. Many of Kiru’s funniest moments aren’t even jokes; it is simply the situation the characters find themselves in, and the events that seem inevitable to take place. In fact, the pace of the movie is perfect, and none of the twists seem absurd, even though this film somehow relies on the absurdity of the period it is set in.

A great performance from Nakadai that ancors everything. He is almost like a switch, moving from feigning cluelessness, to noble samurai, to sneaky yakuza, to badass swordsman in only one expression or less. Everything he does seems natural, and his transformation into the character is amazing. His expressions, his slightly absent gaze, his awkward, teetering stance and walk add to his portrayal. He has never been this funny, and if you’ve mostly seen him as a badass samurai (Dai-bosatsu toge, Goyokin, Kagemusha, etc.), the change really is quite amusing. The supporting cast full of strange personalities and quirks also do well. The gambling head priest, the innocent and unambitious old chamberlain, the fidgety constantly moving henchman… characters so out of type yet fit into the world Okamoto creates.

If you watch this as an entry into historic, period-correct, existentialist chambara, this might not work for you. But if you’re up for some funny deconstruction, this is a must see.

conclusion
Perhaps not a starting point for those just getting into chambara, but this should definitely be in everyone’s “to watch” list. Maybe after you’ve seen 20 or so important films in the genre, and have read enough about the period and its culture, this will be a great experience.

things to take note of
Nakadai’s performance
Genta’s comments and insights into the situation
The against-stereotype characters
How many times they say “kiru” (in any of its forms)

best moment
Hanji’s conclusion about his wish

why you should watch this
One of the funniest chambara ever
A great genre piece that defies expectations
My favorite Okamoto, beating out Akage and Dai-bosatsu toge

rating: 8.5

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

similar movies, maybe:
Akage / Red Lion
Hana yori mo naho

genres

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