Tag Archives: Tanba

Goyokin (Official Gold, 1969)

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Gosha Hideo’s 1969 “Goyôkin” (released with its Japanese title in Engish, and also titled “Official Gold” (a translation of the Japanese title) and “Steel Edge of Revenge,” is sort of the opposite of rebel samurai movies, though it shares the frequent villain of those movies, a corrupt official, Rokugo (Tanba Tetsurô). It is more akin to the movies in which a samurai or samurais aids and protects common folk (Seven Samurai, Sanjuro). The hero is Magobei, played by Nakadai Tatsuya. He is employed by the Sabai clan.

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The nearby island of Sado mines gold, which belongs to the Tokugawa clan (the shoguns’ clan). After a ship loaded with gold sinks and the local (to Kurosaki on the Shimokita Peninsula) peasants salvage some of it to return to the Tokugawas, Rokugo seizes it for himself and slaughters the peasants who knew of the horde. Magobei contents himself with his superior (master), who is also his brother-in-law, promising to go and sin no more, that is, never to do it again.

Magobei moves to Edo (the future Tokyo). When assassins come for him, he realizes that Magobei is going to steal more official gold and goes to intervene. With the aid of a young samurai who was supposed to kill him, Fujimaki Samon (Nakamura Kinnosuke) and a local brother and sister (Asaoka Rurikô and Hura Ben), Magobei averts the shipwreck. Not without serious injury, Magobei proceeds to the inevitable one-on-one fight with Rokugo. It is gorgeously shot in the snow.

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As usual, Nakadai is intense—and, as often, sullen and ferocious (with a thick beard). Here he portrays an entirely honorable samurai opposing a greedy villain, having let his childhood friend/ superior officer/brother-in-law off once. The purloined gold recalls “Sword of the Beast” set a few decades later (“Goyokin” is set in the 1830s).

The source material (film) has not been remastered, and the colors tend to be a bit oversaturated, but the images are mostly not muddied by age. Okazaki Kôzô’s (Kaseki) outstanding cinematography mostly endures.

(Trivia: Mifune Toshirô was originally cast as Samon, but after shooting had begun had an ulcer and dropped out of the production. Nakadai was reunited with his onscreen wife from Kobayashi’s “Samurai Rebellion” Tsukasa Yôko.)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

“Three Outlaw Samurai” (1964)

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I thought that perhaps “Three Outlaw Samurai” (Sanbiki no samurai, 1964, the movie directorial debut of Gosha Hideo (Sword of the Beast) might be 3/7ths as good as “Seven Samurai.” That hope was about right. It is like “Seven Samurai” in that some ronin decide to help some peasants, though in “3” the peasants are seeking relief from an evil magistrate. (In Chinese history, low-status people have always blamed local officials and believed that “if only the emperor knew” he would rectify the abuses. In Tokugawa times, it was “if only the clan lord knew,” he’d make things right and punish the local official..)

The magistrate has refused to accept a petition from the peasants who are on the verge of starvation. Three of them have kidnapped the magistrate’s daughter (Kuwano Miyuki) and are holding her in a mill. The samurai who happens by, Shiba (the very long-faced Tanba Tetsuro), sits back to watch (like Mifune in “Yojimbo”). He provides advice to the captive and the captors, and (more Nakadai than Mifune) takes a beating to save the peasants, trusting the word of the magistrate given from one samurai to another.

Another wandering samurai, Kikyo (Hira Mikijiro, also long-faced, who would star in “Sword of the Beast”) who has been taken in (and fed by the magistrate) is offended by the magistrate’s violation of his promises. The recruitment of the other one, the earthiest one, Sakura (Nagato Isamu), is too complicated for me to try to summarize. The magistrate’s daughter is also outraged by her father’s perfidy

In tandem (all three never fight together at the same time), the honorable (therefore rebel) samurai cut down many assailants hired by the magistrate to obliterate the problem before the lord passes through. I don’t understand why superior numbers are never used to overwhelm an opponent. The skilled swordsmen cut down assailants in rapid succession, but it seems to have been unthinkable to attack from all sides at once. The good guys (that is, the outlaws, each of whom was reluctant to get involved, especially in opposing local authority) do not escape unscratched, but Shiba, who should be the most winded, still has the ability(/will) to run to the lord’s procession after the most extensive battle.

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Although there are extended battles, “Three Outlaw Samurai” doesn’t really seem to be an “action movie.” There are complicated relationships (more even than in “Yojimbo” or “Seven Samurai”) and in the eternal division of plot-driven vs. character-driven, this has to go in the latter category. The mixture of pragmatism, idealism, and swordsmanship of Shiba puts him in the company of the heroes of other “rebel samurai” protagonists from the mid-to-late-1960s, which for me was the golden age of samurai films with complex characters, in many ways paralleling American “adult westerns” of the 1950s and 1960s. Many of both were marked as occurring near the end of the era (the closing of the west, the decay of the Tokugawa Shogunate before it was toppled by the Meiji “Restoration” in 1868).

Tanba Tetsuro is exceedingly good in the central role. For me, the highest praise is comparing his performance to that of Nakadai Tatsuya in “Kill!,” “Seppuku,” and other rebel samurai movies.

The visual compositions are frequently striking (credit and cinematographer Sakai Tadashi, who also lensed Gosha’s “Hunter in the Dark” and “Cash Calls Hell,both of which also starred Nakadai; IMDB only lists one other non-Gosha-directed credit for Sakai). Traditional Japanese houses with their rice-paper sliding panels seem inherently photogenic to me, and ease the way for shadow displays.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray