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Samurai Rebellion 
Written by: on January 8th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1967
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yôko Tsukasa, Etsuko Ichihara, Tatsuo Matsumura, Shigeru Kôyama

DVD released: October 25, 2005
Approximate running time: 121 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: NR
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.99

Isaburo Sasahara (Mifune) is an Aizu clansman and expert swordsman. He has lived his life by rules and married for position when he was young. He is requested to marry his son Yogoro (Tsukasa) to a disgraced lady in waiting, Ichi (Ichihara). He is minded not to but his son makes the sacrifice and Ichi and Yogoro begin married life. It becomes clear that Ichi’s disgrace has come about because of cruelty from Lord Matsudaira for whom she has a borne a male child. The marriage is a success but then the heir to the Aizu clan dies and Matsudaira requires Ichi to be returned to the court forsaking her newborn child and Yogoro. When Isaburo and Yogoro refuse a stalemate develops with clan officials trying any means to prise Ichi away.

Masaki Kobayashi is often forgotten when the greats of Japanese cinema are discussed. However his works put him on a par with the triumvirate of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa. More political than any of those three directors, Kobayashi made films in the 1960’s which reflected the upheaval in post-war Japan with the disgraced authority of the pre-war government and Emperor. In his great Human Condition trilogy there is a coruscating history of Japan dealing with the oppression of the state and war crimes around WWII, and his Jidai Geki are similarly political.

Samurai Rebellion is a tale of oppression and unreasonable authority which politicises the gentle and conformist Sasaharas into defying their clan and family. The Chamberlain and Steward of the clan are presented as evil weak men who abuse authority to keep hold of position. The Lord of the clan is a corrupt lecher who seizes the women of his subordinates and expects others to protect him. These men do not mind any immorality but hate the appearance of impropriety.

Mifune plays the ageing patriarch who becomes aware – “I feel more alive than I ever have” and Nakadai his cynical friend who has learnt how to politic and to survive despite his distaste for his superiors. This along with Sword of Doom forms one of the two great films Nakadai and Mifune made when they are brought into opposition. It is a great sight to see the brooding Nakadai facing off against the passionate Mifune. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent.

This film like Harikiri, Rashomon, Sword of Doom, Samurai Assassin, Throne of Blood and the Seven Samurai is written by the great Shinobu Hashimoto. It is a wonderful script with elegance given to the verbal sparring, and great construction and character development. The character of Mifune’s wife in this film could have been an annoying Harridan in other hands which would have weakened the central character by his tolerance of her, but this is well developed and Mifune’s sufferance seems real and believable.

This is a Jidai Geki rather than a Chanbara, there are only two fight sequences and these are more about character than choreography. Samurai Rebellion is a great film from a director you need to discover.

The DVD:

Criterion’s high definition transfer is excellent. There are odd scratches on the film and one over exposed scene towards the end but it is better than this film has looked before.

The audio is amazing with no distortion, hiss or pops. The music by Toru Takemitsu has never sounded as good. The English subs are very good and clear.

The extras are few with an interview with Kobayashi from Masahiro Shinoda, trailer and essay of the film from Donald Richie.

This version of the film is the best available. The previous R2 with dreadful contrast and transfer can safely be binned.

For more information about Samurai Rebellion and other titles released by Criterion visit their website.

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