Shogun's Samurai DVD

Saturday, 10 January 2009 09:16

“Shogun’s Samurai” is a classically tragic tale of family feuding, political machinations and betrayal. Set in feudal Japan, the story opens in 1624, just after the untimely death of the Shogun General. We soon learn that retainers of one of the General’s two sons were responsible, opening the way for a fraternal power-struggle.

One son, Lemestsu (Hiroki Matsukata), appeared to have been the natural successor, but his disfigurement raised doubts amongst his aides, leading them to poison his father before the other son, Tadanaga (Teruhiko Saigo), could be selected instead.

Shogun's SamuraiRather than overcoming their differences, the brothers retreat to their separate camps, and plan their paths to ultimate victory, amassing troops and attempting to win favour with neighbouring factions, in a bid to tip the balance of power in their favour.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that victory can only come at a terrible price. The scale of the war between the estranged brothers grows, and the bodies of those caught up in the battle, many of them innocent, pile up. The tacticians try to outwit each other, make promises they have no intention of honouring, and encourage those that were previously allies to stab each other in the back. It truly is a tale of humanity at its worst!

Although the movie is really an ensemble piece, a few of the roles and actors really stand out. First and foremost is Kinnosuke Nakamura as Yagyu Tajima, ostensibly Prince Lemestsu’s fencing teacher. In reality, Yagyu is the prime-mover, setting the shadowy scheme in motion and whispering poison into the prince’s ear at every turn to maintain the feelings of distrust and hatred against his brother.

Nakamura equips himself admirably, full of dark, brooding looks and speaking with a deep, commanding tone that instils fear in those around him. Matsukata is also fantastic as the power-thirsty Lemestsu, bringing to mind Macbeth in his ambition and willingness to be (mis-)led, though displaying none of the remorse of that famously tragic character. On the other hand, Saigo as the fairer brother, Tadanaga, has the viewer rooting for him in the face of overbearing odds, both quantitive and in terms of the lengths his enemies are prepared to go to be triumphant.

For a film that runs to 130 minutes, there are not actually that many action sequences. However, those battle scenes – both large and small in scale – that are depicted are directed and choreographed clearly and in general with an element of believability about them. Wirework is barely used, and the sword fighting brings home the deadliness of sharp-edged weaponry when wielded by experts. Predominantly armour-less soldiers fall after a single blow, sometimes with a limb removed before they hit the ground.

Having said that, the blood-letting is never excessive or gratuitous. This reality-check is quite refreshing after the barrage of more recent martial arts movies where fights seem to go on for hours before a combatant succumbs!

Aside from the creditability of the action, it is obvious that a huge amount of attention was paid to the costumes, sets and ceremonies of the period. It is clear that the Klingons of Star Trek have a lot to thank for this period in Japanese history, steeped as it is in an all-pervading sense of honour, both terms of respect for one’s superiors, and an unflinching sense of duty to the cause. The costumes display a fine level of detail, from the rich, highly regal outfits of the courtiers to the muted, less refined clothing of the peasants and foot soldiers.

Considering the film was made in 1978, this remastered edition looks pretty sharp. Some of the colours are slightly muted, but that could well be down to the use of camera filters to bring a period look and feel to the movie.

The audio is mono-only, but again, it is clear and crackle-free. Sadly, this budget-priced DVD does not include many extras – just some promotional clips (complete with slightly amusing translation issues), a photo gallery and a text-based director’s profile. The disk is released on 26 January, at an RRP of £7.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com .

 

Shogun’s Samurai (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978)

DVD Release Date: 26 January 2009

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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