Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Toshirô Mifune as a samurai who can only bend so far
on 11 November 2005
"Samurai Rebellion" ("Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu") offers the most familiar face in samurai films, Toshirô Mifune, as a grandfather who is pushed to act against the wishes of his lord all in the name of love. That should be enough to get you interested in Masaki Kobayashi's 1967 film, which is set in 1725 during a peaceful period for the Tokugawa Shogunate. The daimyo Lord Masakata Matsudaira (Tatsuo Matsumura) has ordered his concubine, the Lady Ichi (Yôko Tsukasa), exiled from his castle. Having just born Matsudaira a son, the Lady Ichi has slapped her lord around when she returned from a spa and found another woman in her place. The mother of one of the lord's sons cannot be disposed of, so Matsudaira's superintendent arranged for her to be married to Yogoro Sasahara (Go Katô), the eldest son of the loyal Isaburo Sasahara (Mifune).
Isaburo's shrewish wife, Suga (Michiko Otsuka), complains that the family can not be dishonored by taking the shamed woman into their house and the henpecked Isaburo tried to decline. However, this proves impossible and Yogoro and Ichi are married. Although the marriage is arranged, the two fall in love, and have a daughter, Tomi. Content that his son has a happy marriage, when he has never seen a shred of love in his own, Isaburo retires and makes Yogoro head of the Sasahara clan. The old man seems content to play with his granddaughter. But then Matsudaira's oldest son dies, making Ichi's son the heir, and he demands she return to the castle. Yogoro refuses to let his wife go and his father backs him in his decision, while the rest of the family insists Ichi be sent packing. This sets up a deadly chess game between the two clans.
It is Matsudaira who makes the big mistakes, having Ichi kidnapped instead of ordering his vassal to have her returned. Now it is Yogoro who is in the right in the eyes of the Shogunate, and Matsudaira must do anything he can to save face. This sets up the fatal confrontation when the superintendent shows up with the Lady Ichi and a whole lot of samurai to try and force the desired resolution. It takes three quarters of this movie before Isaburo finally draws his sword, but then we are in for some serious swordplay by Mifune, which leads to a fateful duel with his friend, the honorable samurai Tatewaki Asano (Tatsuya Nakadai), that underscores that honor under obligation to obedience rather than truth is questionable.
Some might think it takes too long to get to the action in "Samurai Rebellion," but I should point out the literal translation of the title is "Receive the Wife." The acceptance of Ichi by her husband and father-in-law, and her decision to forget about her son to become a true member of her name family, constitute the drama that sets up the action. The Ichi and Yogoro fall in love is what moves Isaburo to take his stand and defy both his wife and his lord, with his righteous anger supported by the best sword arm in the province for the first time in his life Isaburo feels truly alive.
Shinobu Hashimoto's script, based on a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi, builds the tension slowly, and while the pace may be unacceptable to some devotes of samurai films it is totally appropriate to this story. Ultimately this is a character drama and what matters is how the three main characters come to the point where they choose their fates, refusing to be shackled any longer by their obligations to their liege lord. The point of "Samurai Rebellion" has been made before the first sword is drawn and what happens after that point is just playing out the inevitable tragedy. The film also offers Kazuo Yamada's beautiful black & white cinematography along with the elegant ballet of swordplay both in the Sasahara courtyard and in front of the gate on the road to Edo.
"Samurai Rebellion" is part of the recently released "Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics" collector's set put out by the Criterion Collection. This set also includes Hideo Gosha's "Sword of the Beast," Masahiro Shinoda's "Samurai Spy," and Kihachi Okamoto's Italian western-influenced "Kill!" The films are also available separately. As near as I can tell "Samurai Rebellion" has been more available of these "chambara" films in the past, so it is nice that the others are getting the chance for samurai fans to check out. Unfortunately the special features on these discs are pretty sparse: all you get here is the trailer and a brief interview with director Masaki Kobayashi. This is rather surprising because you would think there would be volunteers lining up to do a Criterion Collection caliber commentary track.