Too much plot, too many characters with similar names, and no clear central protagonist to root for. Nevertheless, HUNTER IN THE DARK is entertaining viewing, with its cast gradually whittled down by swordplay and deceipt to a manageable few. The 1979 film received its official US
home-video release in 1997.
In 1784 Edo, one-eyed ronin Yataro Tanigawa (Yoshio Harada) kills the two rivals of his boss Gomyo (Tatsuya Nakadai), leader of an underworld society or "hunter of darkness." Tanigawa, who has no memory of his past, is then used to eliminate the remaining members of the Kitamae clan, now abolished
by the shogunate. Back in Gomyo's den, Oriwa (Ayumi Ishida) recognizes Tanigawa and sends him to a nearby temple to jog his memory.
Shimoguni (Sonny Chiba), an agent of the corrupt Prime Minister, wants Tanigawa dead. It seems Tanigawa is actually a Kitamae himself, his memory and eye lost after accidentally killing his own father when the clan was abolished. At the temple, a priest gives Tanigawa a charter granting the
Kitamae the land of Ezo; the priest is then killed by assailants who burn the temple and wound Tanigawa. Gomyo rescues Tanigawa and hides him with Oriwa (who, it turns out, was Tanigawa's wife before his memory loss), but a female assassin kills Tanigawa, losing her own life in the process. When
Shimoguni arrives to claim the charter so he can rule Ezo, Oriwa kills herself. Gomyo and Shimoguni finally face off in a duel and kill one another.
Adapted from a Japanese novel for popular movie and television director Hideo Gosha, HUNTER IN THE DARK has a convoluted backstory that's only gradually revealed in flashbacks. Add double- and triple-crosses and multiple names for several characters, not to mention a plethora of women whose names
all begin with the letter "O," and you've got a plot that demands careful attention. Filmed matter-of-factly with few stylistic flourishes (unless you count the abundant female nudity), the film takes awhile to build momentum before unfolding its most memorable images: Tanigawa charging through a
series of paper screens to kill the Kitamae; the final showdown in the chicken coop, with birds scattering and feathers flying; and the fight in the burning temple which ends with a vision of Tanigawa--unkempt, seething, smoke rising off his clothes as his memory returns. Fire, it seems, is the
key to his past, his home having been torched and his father dying beside a burning lamp--nicely foreshadowed when Tanigawa is transfixed by a lamp knocked over in the opening assassination gambit.
In fact, while Tanigawa seems to be the hero (or antihero) early on, he never quite merits caring about. For a hired assassin, he's curiously incompetent, killing his own father by mistake, wandering around sans memory (or character), and needing rescue several times throughout the film. Not to
mention the fact that he's killed well before the film's end--leaving the audience to shift their attention to Gomyo, a lesser, ambiguous presence who begins the film by cold-heartedly betraying and slaughtering his rivals before unexpectedly renouncing his wealth and position to save bland ronin
Tanigawa. (Graphic violence, extensive nudity.)
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- Released: 1979
- Rating: NR
- Review: Too much plot, too many characters with similar names, and no clear central protagonist to root for. Nevertheless, HUNTER IN THE DARK is entertaining viewing, with its cast gradually whittled down by swordplay and deceipt to a manageable few. The 1979 film… (more)