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Bloody Spear At Mount Fuji [Blu-ray]
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Praised by Japanese film critics and much admired by his contemporaries Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirô Ozu, Tomu Uchida nonetheless remains a little-known in the west. His 1955 masterpiece Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is an excellent entry point for the newcomer.
Set during the Edo period, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is a tragicomic road movie of sorts, following a samurai, his two servants including spear-carrier Genpachi (Chiezô Kataoka) and the various people they meet on their journey, including a policeman in pursuit of a thief, a young child and a woman who is to be sold into prostitution.
Winner of a prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for supporting actor and Kurosawa regular Daisuke Katô, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is a film deserving of much wider international recognition.
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A road movie of sorts, Sakawa Kojuro is a samurai traveling with his two servants, Genta and Gonpachi, to deliver a ceremonial gift. But the road is crowded with fellow travelers en route to a local festival whose stories intersect with Kojuro and his companions. A dedicated spear-carrier, Gonpachi takes an ambitious orphan under his wing, teaching him techniques and life lessons. While Genta is charged with keeping his samurai master, who has a weakness for sake, away from any and all local drinking establishments. Meanwhile, a third plotline involving human trafficking sews the plot together in a tapestry of honor, loyalty and sacrifice.
Although the finale features a violent battle that finally earns the film its title, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is anything but a showcase for samurai swordplay. Uchida's film is far more interested in exploring the complicated relationships between social classes...and the foolishness of those complications. It's a political statement, yes, but one that never (or rarely) feels force-fed thanks to such a wonderfully fleshed out cast of characters. Despite the setting, Bloody Spear seems culturally universal; it's a story that needs no translation beyond a few subtitles.
BLOODY SPEAR AT MOUNT FUJI is a road picture in essence. A disparate group of travelers are on the same road traveling together towards Edo for different reasons. The focal point of the group is Sakawa Kojūrō, a samurai traveling with his servants Genpachi, his spear carrier and Genta. The rest of the group is made up of a singer and her daughter, a father taking his daughter to be sold as a prostitute to pay off his debts, a pilgrim, a policeman and a man the officer has his eye on, searching for a thief in the area.
The group no connection with one another save for this journey they are making. Each has their own story to tell revealed in both their actions and things that take place along the way. For Kojūrō he is taking a special bowl to Mount Fuji as an offering. Along his journey he must deal with the fact that he has a problem when he drinks sake, changing from the calm demeanored man he is most of the time into a violent lout. This comes into play during their journey. Genta has his own issues with drinking to deal with and is the weaker of the two servants. Genpachi is the most stalwart, determined to serve his master with honor.
Along their journey the group picks up an orphan boy named Jirō who wants to become a samurai one day and pleads with Genpachi to teach him to be a spear carrier. The servant takes him under his wing and continues on their journey.
Various events take place on their travels including the group being forced to wait on noblemen who insists on having a tea ceremony on the side of the road closing down all traffic to do so. This is one of many incidents that cause Kojūrō to question the behavior of his class, those in his social sphere. Another involves the capture of the thief on the lose by his servant that results in his getting recognition for the achievement in spite of his protestations that it was Genpachi who was responsible.
The film mixes styles going from serious drama to light comedy in the blink of an eye. It melds these story methods together to offer a compelling story with a message that will remain with viewers even after the end of the film. These different styles work well as each is seen and the combination of them works in every incident seen on film.
The film may not work for everyone as many people seem bound and determined not to expose themselves to anything but movies made in their own country. An intolerance for subtitles has left many people with fewer options of films to watch and that’s their loss. The same holds true for young people who often will avoid anything made prior to their being born feeling it has nothing to offer, even more so should the film be shot in, heaven forbid, black and white. These two self-imposed restrictions leave many to sustain the belief that only they exist in the world when it comes to movies. It’s great loss on their part and they’re not even aware.
Extras for the film are limited but that should be expected for a movie made in 1955. Included are a brand new audio commentary track by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, an interview with
director Tomu Uchida’s son (Uchida is the director of the film), an interview with Kazunori Kishida, who was a publicist for home studio Toei, French film critic Fabrice Arduini speaking on Uchida’s work, a reversible sleeve featuring original artwork and newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley and for the first pressing only an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and filmmaker James Oliver.