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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

Jujiro / Crossroads

No cover art available. However…

Kinugasa Teinosuke - Jujiro / Crossroads (1928)

Why he found this chick hot, I'll never understand

Director: Kinugasa Teinosuke
Writers: Kinugasa Teinosuke
Date: 1928

Genre: Drama
Description: Brother-sister relationship, love story (with another lady crazy), obsession, blindness, evil men, tragedy, impressionism

Cast: Bando Junosuko, Chihaya Akiko, Ogawa Yukiko, Sohma Ippei, Hasegawa Kazuo

Crew of note: Cinematography by Kôhei Sugiyama

Runtime: 80 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Rikiya and Okiku are two siblings living in a rundown tenement in the Yoshiwara district (Red Light District + Gambling dens and other mischief) of Edo. They barely live a life of subsistence, and theirs is a world of perpetual darkness. One day, Rikiya eyes O-yume (depending on the kanji which isn’t shown, this could possibly mean “Miss Dream”), a girl who works at one of the gaming stands, and becomes madly obsessed with her. However, O-yume is admired by many powerful men, including samurai, government officials and many others. Rikiya, driven by his obsession, must find a way to defeat them all and claim O-yume as his own.

review
Obsession over women, ahh the age old folly of man. Stories of dudes going crazy for chicks and ruining their lives with dumbass decision go as far back as I care to remember. Outsiders condemn these people for their irrational behavior and poor decision making, and a common exclamation for these instances is “What were they thinking?!” Jujiro, in my opinion, acts as a sort of exploration into the mind of obsession. With understandably crazy results.Instead of trying to weave a complicated story (the plot is still good in this one though, with siblings and social hierarchies), which wouldn’t quite have achieved much on its own, Kinugasa focuses on the visuals–a representation of obsession.

Using an amazing array of camera and editing techniques–superimposition, ambiguous close-ups, rapid pans, creeping zooms, a spinning camera, rapid jump cuts, successive shots of random everyday objects, an emphasis on shadows in an already dark world…–Kinugasa is able to recreate Rikiyo’s mind and posits it as the real world that the siblings inhabit. The characters become mad exaggerations–the cackle of wandering courtesans, the white faces of geisha, the pompous samurai, the swelling crowds–and only Okiku, the lone sympathetic character in the film, almost a voice of reason or reality, seems apart from this nightmare, and she is the source of most of the film’s more tender moments. While the rest of Japan was busy making jidaigekis and Chaplin copies, Kinugasa was pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.

The only slight problem in Kinugasa’s picture is that there are occasions when the screen is a little too dark. It adds to the nightmarish quality of the film, but for people with dark screens or poor eyesight, it might be a problem trying to figure out who’s who or who’s doing what. Still, it’s amazing how Kinugasa was able to get such a variety of shots with such little light.

As Rikiyo grows in his obsession of the equally strange O-yume, the film becomes more and more an elaboration of his condition, a dingy illumination of his world. It’s frightening, confusing, and fascinating.

Note: Saw this with no accompaniment. I’m curious how it’d be with an equally impressionistic score.

conclusion
Along with Kurutta ippeji / Page of Madness, Kinugasa’s work in cinematic impressionism is, at the very least, a landmark in Asian cinema. You will be hardpressed to find anything as forward thinking and modern as these two films (which were made at the same time as the French Impressionist Film movement), showing that Asia was barely, if at all, lagging behind in the art of film during the silent period. Beautiful, technically impressive and surprisingly emotional, Jujiro / Crossroads is not just a picture for film students, but something any hobbyist can marvel at and enjoy.

things to take note of
The perpetual night
Impressionist images of everyday objects
The madness
All those crazy visuals
There are a lot of symbols here, I was just too lazy to explain them

best moment
On the streets, and all the random items made to seem crazy

why you should watch this
I don’t think anyone in Japan, maybe the world, did anything quite like this during the 20’s
It’s crazy!!

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
You should also watch Kinugasa’s Kurutta ippeji / Page of Madness

Lan tou He / Dirty Ho

Lan tou He / Dirty Ho (1979)

I deserve an award for googling the best cover possible

Director: Lau Kar Leung
Writers: Ni Kuang
Date: 1979

Genre: Kung Fu
Description: Prince trying to hide his princeship, secret identity, trying to hide his kung fu skills, master and student, returning home, brother against brother

Cast: Gordon Liu Chia-hui, Wong Yue, Lo Lieh, Wang Lung Wei, Kara Hui, Hsiao Hou

Crew of note:

Runtime: 97 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
Wang is an alcohol drinking antique dealer with a secret identity. Ho is a common thief with average kung fu skills. Apparently, he’s also quite filthy, hence the title. They meet through a series of coincidences and amusing encounters, until Ho finally learns Wang’s secret. Ho becomes his kung fu disciple, and they must help each other survive their travels (and antique buying). But they are both being hunted down by merciless assassins who wish to keep Wang from returning home.

review

Kung Fu Movies Checklist of Asskicking Baddasery
1. Gordon Liu with a mustache and beard.
2. Unlikely duo or master-student relationship.
3. Elaborate training session that probably wouldn’t work in real life.
4. New twist on kung fu style or delivery (secret kung fu).
5. Evil villain with unlimited henchmen.
6. Non-weapon object used during combat.
7. Heroes taking on multiple villains.
8. Final battle that lasts more than 3 minutes.
9. Shaw Brothers signature abrupt ending.
10. Hot Schoolgirls.

Total: 9/10

No wonder this is a masterpiece. Despite the absence of jawdropping, high-flying, arms-flailing kung fu, the way Gordon Liu tries to hide and subvert his kung fu skills while defending himself creates some of the most interesting situations ever. Comedy, kung fu, and art dealership, what more could you want?

conclusion
Kung Fu cinema was at its pinnacle during the 70s, with Shaw Brothers Studios doing most of the ass-whooping. Having used up every possible plot device (revenge, training, greed, crazy monkies) and fighting style (eagle claw, snake fist, centipede style, etc) conceivable, Lau Kar Leung, in a drunken stupor I imagine, said: “Why don’t we do kung fu.. by not doing kung fu!? NATCH!” (citation needed). And now this is regarded as one of the best in the genre. If you love kung fu movies, this is a must.

things to take note of
Gordon Liu shows that he can actually do more than just kick butt; I wish he’d done more comedy
Simple, yet intricate subverted kung fu

best moment
Han dynasty painting? 100 gold pieces. Qing dynasty chair? 150 gold pieces. Gordon Liu stroking his beard and talking about paintings and antiques? Priceless.

why you should watch this
Typing “Dirty Ho” in Google’s image search will get you interesting results
Gordon Liu subverts his kung fu badassery
Kung fu badassery

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
Wu du / Five Venoms directed by Chang Cheh, with the secret identities
Other Godron Liu movies, both directed by Lau Kar Leung:
Wu Lang ba gua gun / 8 Diagram Pole Fighter
Shao lin san shi liu fang / 36th Chamber of Shaolin / Shaolin Master Killer

Nashan naren nagou / Postmen in the Mountains

Nashan naren nagou / Postmen in the Mountains (1999)

The dog is probably suing for not getting on the cover

Director: Huo Jianqi
Writers: Si Wu
Date: 1999

Genre: Drama
Description: Postmen in the mountains, passing on the family job, father-son relationship, real understanding, relationships with people, a smart dog

Cast: Ten Rujun, Liu Ye, Chen Hao

Crew of note: Music by Wang Xiaofeng, Cinematography by Zhao Lei

Runtime: 93 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
The father is asked to retire by the local civil authorities in charge of the mail. It’s the only means of communication with the outside world for most of the towns and villages he visits, so he takes great pride and values his work immensely. Because of this, he can only trust his son to continue his work. The son accompanies his father on one last trip, before finally taking over his father’s life’s work.

review
Beautiful, simple, heartwarming; seemingly about nothing but the film has so much more to say than the conversations reveal. There is more to this life than meets the eye, and though the pictures are certainly beautiful, you must also prick up your ears and listen, and understand the two postmens’ expressions. This is an incredibly real movie, and in fact all of city life seems so fake and artificial compared to the lives of these characters. Punctuated by the subtle understated acting that focuses more on expressions–the welling eyes, the looks of understanding, etc–the Chinese countryside comes alive.

Well shot throughout save for some curious boomlift rising shots. Really really good music–haunting, truly Chinese, yet also modern and acts almost as a fourth voice (third = the dog’s) in many scenes. Basically, it’s another great movie about ordinary people.

conclusion
It’s obvious that I enjoy films about live I will most likely never experience. What makes these films about rural life so encapsulating, so enchanting, is the atmosphere, tension, emotion, that great films are able to exude. It almost seems enough to be mesmerized by the culture, by the landscapes, the architecture, by the sounds and textures of these strange lands. But Huo also shows its people, the quiet and deep father-son relationship of these two men in particular, whose lives are so drastically different from ours and whose culture is fast disappearing. At least I get to see them on film. I hope that places like these will persist in the face of modernization.

things to take note of
The different towns, their reception of the two men, and those that the two men interact with in each place
The everyday objects scattered around, in the most important scenes

best moment
Crossing the river
The scene on the bridge + drinking water
The paper airplane

why you should watch this
I almost cried watching this and I’m not ashamed to admit it
Liu Ye’s gotten pretty famous; this is one of his first, and one of his purest, roles

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
Tuya de hun shi / Tuya’s Marriage
Mabei shang de fating / Courthouse on Horseback
Sanxia Haoren / Still Life

Anma to onna / The Masseur and a Woman

Anma to onna / Masseurs and the Woman (1938)

No, the masseurs is not a midget in the movie

Director: Shimizu Hiroshi
Writers: Shimizu Hiroshi
Date: 1938

Genre: Comedy
Description: Blindness, real sight, whodunnit, running away, friendship, theft, small town characters

Cast: Takamine Mieko, Tokudaiji Shin, Himori Shinichi, Bakudan-kozo, Saburi Shin, Sakamoto Takeshi, Miura Mitsuko

Crew of note:

Runtime: 66 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: Has a 2008 remake, Yama no anata

summary
Two blind masseurs, Toku and Fuku, go to a resort town for work. A relationship form between Toku and one of his patrons, the beautiful but mysterious Michiho. A host of different characters are present, such as Shintaro and his restless son Kenichi, a group of hiking students, and other patrons among the inns. Confusion ensues, however when thefts begin to break out, and everyone becomes a suspect. Though they can’t see a thing, it becomes immediately obvious that the blind masseurs can see a lot more despite their eyes.

review
A very light and amusing comedy about blind masseurs and their interaction with people in a small onsen town. Really great performance by Tokudaiji–he really does seem blind, and his comic timing with his clumsiness is perfect. perhaps too perfect. It really makes you wonder; is he blind, or is he the only one who knows what’s going on?

Though there doesn’t seem to be anything pushing the story along, aside from the minor whodunnit, Shimizu is able to use his blind characters as a mirror for other characters, perhaps humanity if you want to read into it too much. The banter between Toku and Fuku is wonderful, and their comments and suggestions throughout the movie are delightful. It’s difficult to imagine a more memorable pair of blind masseurs.

At only 66 minutes, it is easy to say that the movie is too short, but it isn’t. Every minute runs like poetry; shots could be more than just pictures and words could be more than just what they mean. There is a reason Ozu claims that he cannot shoot movies like Shimizu, and this movie is a great place to start enjoying his work.

conclusion
A must watch for fans of comedies with layers of depth and introspection. Enjoyable, light, and short.. there’s no reason not to watch this. Unless you’re allergic to black and white. It’s a disservice to discuss this movie at length, because it really has to be seen to be understood.

things to take note of
The sliding/gliding camera
The blindness?
Toku’s face

best moment
The very first long scene on the road up the hill

why you should watch this
One of the most intelligent and meaningful comedies from the 30s. Shimizu certainly was more cheery than his contemporaries..

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
Kanzashi / Ornamental Hairpin

genres

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