With Shogun Samurai
, veteran Japanese director Fukasaku Kinji demonstrated that he could do more than the gritty social realist cop-and-gangster films for which he remains most famous. A deliberately stately historical drama, with a slightly ponderous narrator introducing some of its most powerful scenes, Shogun Samurai
shows the succession crisis that followed the death of the second Tokugawa Shogun in the early 17th-century. The Imperial court fans the flames in an attempt to restore the Emperor's power; a young dancer tries to preserve the young prince she loves; a warrior clan take steps to return to their homeland; and the fencing master Yagyu will expend honour and lives, including those of his own children, to ensure that his school is patronised by the new Shogun.
The film alternates powerful scenes of intrigue and stagy monomaniac rants by Yagyu with finely choreographed scenes of battle and duel; it has a powerful and tragic sense of the fragile sadness of things and the futility of all ambitions; Sonny Chiba is unusually impressive as Yagyu's most honourable son, the one-eyed Jubel.
On the DVD: Shogun Samurai on disc has minimal additional features: a short prose profile of Fukasaku Kinji and some promotional clips. Picture is anamorphic 16:9. --Roz Kaveney
Sonny Chiba and Toshiro Mifune star in director Kinji Fukasaku's samurai drama. The year is 1624 and the death of Shogunate General Hidetada has resulted in a conflict between his two sons over who should inherit his position. Various samurai warriors soon join the conflict, taking up sides against each other; meanwhile, behind the scenes, mysterious forces seek to use these events to weaken the Shogunate and return power to the Emperor.