Akage” (Red Lion, 1969, directed by Okamoto Kihachi, 3 stars) made for the production company of its star Mifune Toshiro, is a cynical historical comedy markedly inferior to “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro” (historical comedies in which Mifune starred) and Okamoto’s pragmatic “rebel samurai” masterpiece “Kill!” and “Sword of Doom, and his overly complicated “Samurai Assassin” (which also starred Mifune).
As a stuttering village boy who returns with a red lion’s mane during the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Mifune is good, as is Minori Terada, who had just starred in Okamoto’s “Nikudan”/”The Human Bullet” as a WWII kamikaze pilot. Here he plays a pickpocket who becomes a lieutenant in a de facto peasant rebellion, following the “red lion” (Mifune’s character, Gonzo, who dons a red fright wig).
The fights are not very good. The color photography is interesting, though I think the stylization of black and white works better for movies set within the span of the Tokugawa Shogunate, even the very end of it, as here.
(BTW, the title seems designed to resonate with the title of the last Kurosawa movie in which Mifune starred, “Red Beard” (Akahige), which had been quite popular. Mifune’s role seems a throwback to the one he played in “The Seven Samurai” rather than to his then-recent restrained ones, including in Okamoto’s 1965 “Samurai Assassin.”
©2016, Stephen O. Murray