Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Japan, 1962. Shôchiku Eiga. Screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto, Yasuhiko Takiguchi, based on the novel Ibun Ronin Ki by Yasuhiko Takiguchi. Cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima. Produced by Tatsuo Hosoya. Music by Toru Takemitsu. Production Design by Junpei Oosumi, Shigemasa Toda. Costume Design by Mitsuzo Ueda. Film Editing by Hisashi Sagara. Cannes Film Festival 1963.
One of the most visually striking films ever made, this epic masterpiece also plucks some deep emotional chords. In seventeenth century feudal Japan, a relative peace across the land has rendered samurai swordsmen unemployed and, by this point, starving. It has become common for ronin (samurai without masters) to show up at the estates of wealthy landowners and ask them if they can commit harakiri (ritual suicide) on their land, though really what they expect is to be begged to reconsider and given money. Tatsuya Nakadai plays a mysterious man who shows up at a house with not only a request to commit harakiri but bears a secret involving that estate’s previous history with travelling ronin, a secret involving family and tragedy. Masaki Kobayashi’s exquisite film can barely etch an image without displaying splendid compositions, but don’t assume it’s only a visual experience: Nakadai’s immense talents give deep sentiment to the proceedings, and the story is filled with heartbreaking conflicts before its richly violent finale. A superb work of the highest degree. Remade by Takashi Miike.