Best-known to American audiences as the star of ENTER THE NINJA and its sequels, Japanese lead Sho Kosugi produces as well as stars in the rousing JOURNEY OF HONOR, an old-fashioned, lavishly produced swashbuckler.
Mayeda (Kosugi) is a samurai in 17th-century Japan whose clan, headed by Lord Ieyasu (Toshiro Mifune), is at war with another clan for control of the country. The rival clan has outfitted itself with punk-burning muskets which give them an advantage except when it rains and the water snuffs out
the punks, making the rifles impossible to fire. Ieyasu dispatches Mayeda to Spain, accompanied by Ieyasu's young heir Yorimune (Kane Kosugi), to purchase five thousand flintlock rifles, which are immune to the rain.
Among Yorimune's entourage is, of course, a traitor, Yorimune's Catholic spiritual advisor Father Vasco (Norman Lloyd), who cuts a deal with the rival clan to assassinate Mayeda and Yorimune and see to it that the flintlocks never get delivered in return for wealth and power. The assassination
attempt, aboard their ship piloted by the hard-drinking Captain Crawford (Ronald Pickup), is thwarted by Mayeda. However, in the process, the chest filled with gold to pay for the rifles falls overboard. Arriving in Spain penniless at the court of King Philip (Christopher Lee), Mayeda makes little
progress in convincing the King to release the rifles on credit until he saves the King's life during a rebel attack. However, Mayeda also earns the enmity of the King's advisor, Don Pedro (David Essex), by winning the heart of his fiancee Cecilia (Polly Walker), who turns out to be Crawford's
long-lost daughter, unwillingly bartered into marriage with Don Pedro.
Crawford eludes Don Pedro's attempts to capture his ship, only to run into Moroccan pirate El Zaidan (John Rhys-Davies), who has received information on their valuable cargo from Vasco. Now imprisoned in Morocco, Mayeda impresses El Zaidan with his samurai skills and wins a deal for his and
Yorimune's freedom if he can defeat Don Pedro in mortal combat. Mayeda wins and, despite having to fight El Zaidan also, who tries to renege on his bargain, sails off into the sunset with Yorimune and Cecilia by his side.
JOURNEY OF HONOR bypassed an American theatrical release and went directly to home video, but that's no reason to shun it. What makes this film refreshingly different is precisely what might turn off action-movie junkies weaned on Indiana Jones, Rambo and even THE CRIMSON PIRATE.
Unlike the traditional American action hero, Kosugi's samurai hero is self-effacing to a fault. Though he's onscreen practically from the first moments, it's not even apparent he's to be the film's hero until Lord Ieyasu actually sends him on his mission. And this is after both his wife and young
son, standing in for Yorimune, have given their lives to protect the young Lord. Yorimune is arrogant, disdainful and generally obnoxious until he matures during their adventure, but Mayeda casts him not so much as a sharp glance, so complete is his sense of duty. Mayeda doesn't even resist when,
unaware of the priest's treachery, Yorimune countermands Mayeda's orders that Vasco be left in Spain. Mayeda's courtship of Cecilia is meanwhile courtly to the point of reticence.
There is a shortage of action sequences for a film of this type since Mayeda can't act, but only react to threats against his young charge. There is also a shortage of the usual swashbuckling romance, since Mayeda, whatever his feelings for Cecilia, can let nothing deter him from his duty. Yet,
when the action sequences do come, they are exciting and imaginatively staged, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Kosugi's past films. Perhaps compensating for the lack of romance, Mayeda walks in on Cecilia nude in her bath, although its motivation is a friendly rather than
romantic gesture by Mayeda, since communal bathing is part of his culture.
Nelson Gidding's screenplay, based on a story co-written by Gidding and Kosugi, is a quirkily engaging mixture of historical drama and outrageous plot turns smoothly negotiated by veteran director Gordon Hessler, whose past outings with Kosugi include PRAY FOR DEATH. The star cameos, for another
refreshing change, are all well cast, with Walker (ENCHANTED APRIL, PATRIOT GAMES) an appealing and feisty heroine and Mifune the obvious standout, bringing personality and charm to his brief part in an unusual action film that values chivalry and old-fashioned adventure over blood, gore and
explosions. (Violence, brief nudity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Best-known to American audiences as the star of ENTER THE NINJA and its sequels, Japanese lead Sho Kosugi produces as well as stars in the rousing JOURNEY OF HONOR, an old-fashioned, lavishly produced swashbuckler. Mayeda (Kosugi) is a samurai in 17th-cen… (more)