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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 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

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?

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

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

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

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

Hana yori mo naho

Hana yori mo naho (2006)

The only samurai movie with pink flowers on the cover

Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Writers: Koreeda Hirokazu
Date: 2006

Genre: Jidaigeki, Drama, Comedy
Description: Samurai’s revenge, honor and fidelity, the truth about life, irony of the samurai life, samurai deconstruction, comedy of life, finding a samurai way after war

Cast: Okada Junichi, Miyazawa Rie, Furuta Arata, Kunimura Jun, Nakamura Katsuo, Asano Tadanobu, Harada Yoshio, Kagawa Teruyuki, Tabata Tomoko, Kase Ryo, Terajima Susumu, Ishibashi Renji,

Crew of note:

Runtime: 126 mins.
Color: Color

Soza, a young, honest, and meek samurai spends his days among the impoverished of Edo as he tries to find his father’s murderer to regain his honor, and his lineage. There’s a problem though: Soza sucks with swords, and this becomes obvious quite quickly. As he interacts with the commonfolk around him, and even his father’s murderer, questions about his way of life, and conflicts within his being start to emerge. Will he regain his honor, or … not?

Revenge revenge revenge, it’s one of the staples of chambara. But I don’t think anyone really expects this to be a swordfight based on the director, the poster, or anything else anyone could see about the movie. So I guess it isn’t a spoiler to say, there is only one swordfight in the movie, and it isn’t anything to be excited about. And it’s a good thing there aren’t. Unlike Yamada Yoji’s recent trilogy that inevitably resolves itself with the sword, Koreeda is somehow able to create a true samurai film without the necessity for real blood. I suppose you can call it subversion, and it’s only the tip of that iceberg.

[Insert obligatory mention of how great the cast, script, direction, sets, costumes, music, etc. are]

This is a Jidaigeki because it’s set in Edo during the Tokugawa era, but Koreeda approaches his tale with as much insight, wit, humor and grace as his earlier, as his more celebrated works (Daremo shiranai and Maborosi) set in the modern world. In fact, even though the main conflict in the movie is typical of the samurai genre (ninjo vs giri, honor and fidelity, etc), I found myself being able to relate to Soza more than any other protagonist I’ve spent time with (can you really relate that much to Mifune?). I’d like to avoid discussing the word “deconstruction” even though it’s commonly thrown at this film, but I disagree. This is the voice of the samurai whose story isn’t told, whose exploits aren’t as memorable as the Ryonosukes’, the Musashis’, the unnamed Ronins’. But samurai are human too, and Soza perhaps, lives one of the most human lives of them all.

Wasn’t my review enough to convince you? Koreeda works his magic. Once you’ve seen enough 50s-70s chambara and Jidaigeki, see this.

things to take note of
The Chushingura tale in the background of the movie (no it’s not a subplot and no it isn’t underdeveloped), and its significance
How the neighborhood feels a lot like the one in Ninjo kami fusen / Humanity and Paper Balloons by Yamanaka Sadao, or maybe that’s just me
Miyazawa Rie is so lovely :,(
Soza’s personality, conflict, and resolution
The subversion and deconstruction people keep talking about

best moment
The finale! Definitely one to remember

why you should watch this
Light, amusing, witty and meaningful
Shows a lot of insight into samurai life and its ironies (and loopholes?)
One of the best Jidaigeki from the 2000s (yes, better than Yamada Yoji’s)
I can’t remember the last time I was amazed at a Jidaigeki’s script

rating: 8.9

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

similar movies, maybe:
Tasogare seibei / Twilight Samurai
Bushi no ichibun / Love and Honor
Kiru! / Kill!
Samurai Fiction
Ame agaru / After the Rain



November 2020