In this stunning-looking clone of an Akira Kurosawa epic set in 16th century Japan, two rival warlords gobble up neighboring kingdoms with different priorities in mind, mercilessly wage battle against each other, and eventually reach a stalemate after much pictorially presented carnage. For Takeda (Masahiko Tsugawa) and his Lady Macbeth-like mistress Yae...read more
In this stunning-looking clone of an Akira Kurosawa epic set in 16th century Japan, two rival warlords gobble up neighboring kingdoms with different priorities in mind, mercilessly wage battle against each other, and eventually reach a stalemate after much pictorially presented carnage.
For Takeda (Masahiko Tsugawa) and his Lady Macbeth-like mistress Yae (Naomi Zaizen), total domination of Japan and the molding of his empire into a world power are the interlocking goals. For Uefugi (Takai Enoki) the desire to maintain the status quo of his dominion while ruthlessly crushing
acquisitive invaders is the driving force.
Sumptuously photographed, HEAVEN AND EARTH's screenplay is designed like a military chess game between two keen minds who try to check each other's moves throughout the film. Complicating Uefugi's plight is his spiritual nature which has prompted him to make a vow of celibacy to ensure the
cooperation of his gods. Torn by his love of Nami (Atsuko Asano), the daughter of his ally Usami (Tsunehiko Watase), Uefugi has doubts about his worthiness as a ruler. Although he will later act cruelly when he shoots Yae as she rides toward his camp spewing taunts and challenges, he is indecisive
when expected to issue orders to execute the family of a turncoat. Shaken, he flees his kingdom but is intercepted by loyal followers who inform him of the defection of Usami. Escaping a close call in the forest when Takeda and entourage ride by, he returns to power and gives up all hope of
marrying Nami after he engages her father in a duel on horseback and slays him. Uefugi then launches an all-out assault on Takeda, who pushes his power base to the borders of Uefugi's kingdom. In a climactic series of battles, the warlords try to outmaneuver each other. Aided by fog, Uefugi gains
the upper hand and surrounds his rival's troops. However, neither warrior-king is slain and with an impasse reached, the narrator intones that both rulers lived for many years, but respectfully avoided future conflicts.
While this handsome production manages to pique historical curiosity, it never engages the emotions. Playing like an endless dress rehearsal for "Shogun--The Musical," the film offers thousands of extras parading across the screen in beautifully detailed costumes. Take away the wide-screen
presentation and the drama that is left barely attains the level of interest of a TV mini-series. The narration provided by Stuart Whitman sounds as though it was taken from a grade-school textbook on the history of Japan, reducing the entire effort to an elaborate history lesson. The film's power
is limited by the reduction of its protagonists to puppet status. The best historical epics are careful to see that events don't dwarf the main characters, but here no such care has been taken. On technical grounds, the film cannot be faulted, but as drama it is strictly pedestrian. (Extremeviolence.)
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