Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#310: Samurai Rebellion

(Masaki Kobayashi, 1967)

This movie is awesome. Part of Criterion's Rebel Samurai box, a group of movies made during the counter-culture 60s that explored samurais that defied authority for a higher, individual code of honor, Samurai Rebellion is one of Toshiro Mifune's most famous later performances, as well as one of his most notable outside of the direction of Kurosawa.

It's also a riveting story of a man and his family pushed into a violent and inevitably tragic situation. The tension grows so steadily in the film - without any action until the final 20 or so minutes - that by the big climactic fight scenes the suspense is immense. By the final moment, (spoilers after the jump)
where Mifune lies dying in the sand, I was completely invested in his survival, and the fact that he was murdered by people shooting rifles was especially emotionally resonant. Here is a man guided by a true knowledge of right and wrong, of honor, loyalty, family, and love. And yet the film places power in the form of cold-blooded modernity in his way. It might seem ironic that the movie would be classified as a counter-culture shift away from earlier samurai films, then, when its finale is so obviously tilted towards the old way, the innocent yet honorable stature of the samurai, cut down by the cowardly and morally weak power structure. Yet much of the so-called revolutionary counter-culture of the 1960s was at its heart a conservative movement, a rejection of industrialization and nameless, faceless workers searching for the two-garage home and lulled into political submission by their pensions. This was covered up by the rejection of conventional looks, social mores related to sexuality, drug use, and race and gender assumptions, but the (sometimes over-exaggerated) emphasis on peace, love, and understanding shouldn't be considered the lone realm of the radical.

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