Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967)

…but hold on folks, before we get to THAT point, an image you’d expect to see in just about any samurai film, we’ve gotta sit through long stretches of family members and shoguns and their lackeys sitting around and talking or plotting of conniving or confiding.  Yeah, before Toshiro Mifune can take off his waterwings and commence rape time on fools who don’t deserve to hold a sword, “Samurai Rebellion” is a very dialogue-driven, very formal little film.  For much of the first half or so, I was quite bored, but some aspects were very touching, like how Mifune, the bored, aging swordsman (peacetime ain’t good for the job prospects of samurai), suddenly finds himself identifying with his son’s wife, previously unwanted by the family after their lord thrust her upon them when he was finished with her, but now wanted again by that same lord, a greedy and disgusting man who abuses his power at any and every opportunity.  Could be because of his ruined relationship with his emasculating terror of a wife, or could simply be because he’s touched to see his son unexpectedly fall for his arranged bride who’s now in danger, but Mifune’s transformation and breakthrough from tradition and emotional purgatory is a welcome sight.  That tradition, by the way, is expressed in some absolutely stunning visuals where individuals are arranged within the shot with Ozu-like care, very much like perfectly-planned paintings:

Perfectly-planned, but soulless, which of course is the point.  It’s poignant, then, to see Mifune’s Isaburo become bold and stray from those traditions in which his lord and his wife keep him down – shots of his son’s wife’s sad, sad face and then his face analyzing hers and taking on a look of both pained realization and deep empathy are wonderful.  THAT’s how I want to be made aware of these characters defying tradition, not through flowery dialogue that a) I couldn’t follow, and b) damn near put me to sleep.  Unfortunately, though, much of “Samurai Rebellion” relies on that dull dialogue, even though its images speak loudly in their own right.  Also, there’s WAY too much exposition and expository dialogue, where things are literally brought to a grinding halt so that characters can bring us up to speed about who’s related to who, how this person got here and why, and so on and so forth.  Sure, some of this is accompanied by a cool flashback structure that’s directly edited into the present-day scenes so that past and present become indistinguishable and seamlessly mixed together (which could get confusing to some viewers, but I liked it.  Something new.), but even then, so many scenes are devoted to telling us – not showing, telling – about the past through exposition, and that’s what bored me to tears.

So disregarding the dialogue portion of the screenplay, when this movie relies on its visuals, it’s damn near excellent.  From start to finish, the one word I’d use to describe it is ‘elegant’, both in scenes of conversation where characters are staged in a very specific way as well as in lead-ins to swordfights and in duels themselves, rarely more obvious than in that opening scene, in which Isaburo concentrates cutting down a scarecrow in a field, the camera’s blur effects creating an impressively subjective point of view, so that you’re in the deeply intent mind of the noble swordsman.  Everything’s elegant, as if everything in this world moves just a little bit slower than in our world.  I only wish that that reduced speed would let wayward glances, and body language, and one swordsman eyeing another as to who’s gonna make the first move, do most of the talking instead of, you know, the actual TALKING.

Yeah, this movie’s very elegant, but it’s right around this moment…

“Bring me the heads of the villains who took my son’s wife!”

that Mifune actually becomes Mifune instead of Mr. Mom and the movie gets injected with a heavy dose of awesome-juice.  But even then, the violence is elegant, because the focus isn’t on the violence itself, which is quick and non-glorified, but on the lead-in, as in images like that first one and…

that almost make you think that this is a Sergio Leone film with swords instead of guns, samurai robes instead of ponchos, Toshiro Mifunes instead of Clint Eastwoods (as if Kobayashi borrowed from Leone for this, after Leone borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” for the inferior “A Fistful of Dollars.”  Cyclical…).  “Samurai Rebellion” starts off too slowly, albeit while trying to give us a crash course on the backstory and current situation far too quickly instead of letting us settle into it, while at the same time muddling itself with lame dialogue.  But, it redeems itself in short order once father and son develop a gallant sense of camaraderie in the face of danger and injustice despite putting their family’s reputation and safety at risk, and once shit starts happening, which is the exact case with Isaburo and his son and daughter-in-law: like this film in general, once they break away from monotony and tradition, they feel alive for the first time.  Isaburo even says as much.



3 comments so far

  1. flash-player on


  2. ravensymonedating on

    Who ever so this person really is (who is definitely NOT you) and who keeps on dreaming of matching up Raven with such god awful gangsta rap like artists like “Lil’ Wayne” and Omarion is really outta their mind.

    Raven is proudly not emulating who is Raven Symone dating the Jonas Brothers for their “pure” lifestyles…sure, she’s older tham them(and maybe doesn’t listen to their music),date some such immoral folks can like those two rappers!

    Also, Raven dating Evan Ross(Diana Ross’ oldest son), now that would be a MORALLY better match!

  3. Simon M. on

    lol, HAD to save the above piece of spam for posterity 😆

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