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Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

Yup, this is actually mostly a comedy

Director: Yamanaka Sadao
Writers: Mimura Shintarô
Date: 1935

Genre: Jidaigeki, Comedy
Description: A pot worth a million ryo, looking for the item, humanity, different and unique characters, whatever it takes, what is really valuable

Cast: Ôkôchi Denjirô, Kiyozo, Sawamura Kunitaro, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: There are tons of Tange Sazen films, but this is the oldest one still extant, I believe.

Tange Sazen is a lazy samurai bum working at a Tokugawa-era Japanese arcade, where customers routinely waste their money trying to hit absurdly large targets with a small bow and floppy arrows. Across town, the infamous Yagyu clan is in crisis–they need cash quick! Luckily, there is an old legend that states that older generations of the Yagyu had stashed a million ryo-worth of gold in the mountains. The tricky part: the map is inside an old pot, and no one knows where the heck it is after Genzaburo’s wife sells the crummy old antique to a local dealer. Naturally, Sazen eventually gets involve in this mess. Not a bad deal, since a million ryo is a pretty sweet pay-off if he can outsmart the Yagyu and find the pot before they do.

Sounds like an epic McGuffin hunt with swordfights and counterplots galore, but you really should expect more from Yamanaka. More than the pot itself, the story revolves around man’s desires, what he would do to fulfill those desires, and the discovery of what is truly valuable. In the hunt for the prized piece of pottery are well developed, unique characters–I doubt you will find many others like them. The hero himself is described, and describes himself, as a monster, a demon, an outcast of society. There are moments when he gives credence to this claim, especially with such a fearsome scowl. Yet he also allows himself moments of tenderness, moments of wit and comedy, and even kindness. In the 30’s, when all heroes were noble samurai warriors with distinguished service records and an irreproachable character, Tange stood, awkwardly, as a symbolic anti-hero. The lady proprietor of the arcade, the young child who gets mixed up in the mess, Yagyu Genzaburo who must find the pot to save his clan, his amusingly paranoid wife.. all memorable and authentic characters that inhabit Tange Sazen’s accurately depicted setting.

Surprisingly, the music also stands out at a time when few directors in Japan were using sound quite as assuredly as Yamanaka. In fact, sound would not become ubiquitous until years later. Light and airy during funny bits, an extra punch during the action, a calm background fuzz during intermediate scenes, yet cohesive and never a sore thumb. The film also uses a good number of cuts, angle changes, and close ups to highlight the action, even though there aren’t really many fights. What there are, however, are reassessments of goals and desires; I suppose it’s safe to say that most of the main characters actually go through some kind of change during the movie. Sazen’s still a wise-crackin’ badass though.

Did I mention Sazen only has ONE eye and ONE arm? It’s a good thing he looks like he could be the frontman for any tr00 satanic black metal band:

Ôkôchi Denjirô as Tange Sazen

He can name his band Tange Sazen and the Hairy Potters

No wonder no one wants to fight with him.

You really won’t find many films from this age quite as good, quite as satisfying as this one. It should be clear by now that Yamanaka Sadao is one of my favorite directors, and even though only 3 of his films have survived, all of them are wonderful. A handful of directors have tried tackling Tange Sazen and his adventures, but even after 70 years (the most recent remake was in 2004) Yamanaka’s effort is still the best.

things to take note of
Ôkôchi Denjirô’s movements and posture, and his absolutely hilarious swordstyle
Sazen’s sassy smart-assyness
The comedy
The introspection?

best moment
It’s a pot, so why not use it as a… ?

why you should watch this
One of the most completely satisfying jidaigeki, with character development, comedy, action, a little suspense, and even insight into man and his desires

rating: 9.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
I don’t think any of the future Tange Sazen films are as good as this one, but some stand-outs are:
Matsuda Sadatsugu’s Tange Sazen: Mystery of the Twin Dragons
Gosha Hideo’s Ken fu! Hyakumanryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen: One Million Ryo (stars Nakadai and Natsuyagi Isao!)
Gosha Hideo’s Tange Sazen: Secret of the Urn (stars Nakamura Kinnosuke and Tamba Tetsuro!)

Ninjo kami fusen / Humanity and Paper Balloons

Ninjo kami fusen / Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937)

I think those paper balloons are just there for the sake of the title

Director: Yamanaka Sadao
Writers: Mimura Shintaro
Date: 1937

Genre: Comedy
Description: Humanity, poverty in Edo, trying to get by, honor, daily life, tragi-comedy, all time classic

Cast: Kawarasaki Chojuro, Nakamura Kanemon, Kato Daisuke, Sukedakaya Suzeko, ensemble

Crew of note:

Runtime: 86 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: This movie was released the same day Yamanaka was shipped off to Manchuria. He died during the war in 1938, and the world lost a person that could have become one of the best directors evar.

In a slum in 18th century Edo, a bunch of misfits and outcasts plod through their days trying to make ends meet. The movie begins with one of their neighbors dead after suicide, and despite the dreary atmosphere, the locals still find the time to crack jokes, play pranks, and find ways to enjoy their lives. Among the characters is a samurai looking for work, who stalks his father’s former employer. Though it seems there is nothing that binds these people together, a gambling addict hiding from the mob hatches a plan, and.. things happen.

The movie lives up to its title: this is a film that shows incredible breadth and depth regarding humanity and the human conditions during pre-restoration Edo, as well as contemporary Japan. But what sets the movie apart is the way it is able to remain believably humorous despite its setting and themes. I would even brand it as a comedy, because the characters, despite living in the mire that is Edo, appear hopeful and filled with the thirst for life. All the characters seem real and authentic, and Yamanaka uses this to his advantage to show the tragedies and hardships of life without resorting to using melodrama and creating a heavyhanded or depressing movie. They even have a party during a wake. The courage, the pride, the indignation that these people show in allowing their selves to persist is beautiful.

The cast performs superbly, as the ensemble show a vast array of emotions, attitudes, personalities, and motives to fill the little neighborhood. They make this movie what it is, and it is truly the ensemble that performs.

The camera and framing are purposefully done mid-range with characters and props filling the frame, making the neighborhood seem cramped and claustrophobic–almost warm at times, imposing at others. The end–with the reversal–is quite fantastic. The final frame as well, shows why the film is entitled such. There is however a lack of music, though it is never missed.

You can slice it whatever way you want: social realist, fatalist, existentialist, ninjo vs giri.. bla bla. There are many layers in this film, but many forget about the humour in their final consideration, and I don’t think Yamanaka, after all his meticulous details in this film, adds it just because. Whatever his reason, I am sure he speaks of humanity.

PS. I decided to label this as a comedy instead of a drama, because I’m optimistic.

An absolute must-see. Very few films have this depth and understanding of humanity, and to have been made in 1937, by a director only in his late 20s, is unbelievable.

things to take note of
The attitude of the impoverished
Paper balloons…?

best moment
The jokes, the pranks, the laughs

why you should watch this
All of the above I mentioned plus the fact that it’s been released by Masters of Cinema, making it easier to find.

rating: 9.25

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

similar movies, maybe:
none that I know of, at least for its contemporaries



November 2020