Forget any notions of epic warrior battles conjured by the title: the rebellion actually consists of an unthinkable (for the time) refusal to accede to a feudal lord's unfair proclamation. The film's story line is a clever and perceptive story, superbly told. And yes, the last 20 minutes
consist of Toshiro Mifune killing everyone in sight.
When concubine Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa) displeases Lord Matsudaira (Tatsuo Matsumura), she is shipped off to be married to a vassal, Yogoro (Tsuyoshi Kato)--much to the dismay of the vassal's family, the Sasahara. But Ichi is a good wife and a loyal family member, and she and Yogoro quickly fall in
love. Soon they have a baby girl, Tomi.
Then the Lord's first child dies of illness and his son by Ichi becomes heir, necessitating her leaving the Sasahara to take her place beside Matsudaira. Yogoro--now head of the entire family--and his retired father Isaburo (Toshiro Mifune) become pariahs by defying the edict and the wishes of
their own clan, insisting Ichi stay. When Ichi is kidnapped, Yogoro and Isaburo threaten to tell the Shogunate of Matsudaira's ill-treatment, and are ordered to kill themselves. Again they balk, preparing to battle the Lord's men, but instead Ichi is brought to them as a bargaining chip. Unwilling
to compromise, Ichi pierces herself with a guard's spear and dies. Running to her side, Yogoro is likewise slaughtered, and Isaburo cuts down the Lord's men.
Heading toward Edo with baby Tomi to spread the news of Matsudaira's villainy, Isaburo is forced to battle and kill his old friend Tatewaki Asano (Tatsuya Nakadai). Hunted through the fields by the Lord's men, he kills them all but is shot down in the process. Tomi is carried away by her
Director Masaki Kobayashi is an absolute master of composition, best known nowadays for his stunning period films KWAIDAN (1964) and HARA-KIRI (1962), but with an earlier reputation for more contemporary socially-conscious films. A prisoner of the Chinese during WWII, he went on to direct a
trilogy condemning Japan's wartime atrocities. Clearly, human rights and the folly of blind obedience were subjects dear to his heart, and with acclaimed screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto (RASHOMON, 1951) adapting a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi, he had in SAMURAI REBELLION (also known simply as
REBELLION) a terrific 18th-century allegory of heroic individualism versus blind acceptance of authority--perfect for 1967 Japan.
The power of the film is in the characters and details. The love story, in fact, is its least significant aspect; basically we're told the couple are deeply in love, but never really see anything more than a few dewy eyes. Much stronger is the character of Isaburo, a loyal subject and master
swordsman who was entreated into a loveless marriage 20 years ago and is obsessed with seeing his child's happy marriage survive--at any cost.
Discounting the slashing of a scarecrow in the opening moments, not a sword is drawn until the hour-and-a-half mark. Composed more of thought than of action, the film builds slowly toward the inevitable cathartic explosion, offering smart, insightful observations and evocative situations. Father
and son, knowing a battle is coming which they won't survive, spread tatami mats on the floor so they won't slip on the blood. And Ichi, speaking of being taken by the Lord as a teen, gives a sad but stinging picture of their ensuing love life. "It was like dragging a pure silk kimono through the
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- Review: Forget any notions of epic warrior battles conjured by the title: the rebellion actually consists of an unthinkable (for the time) refusal to accede to a feudal lord's unfair proclamation. The film's story line is a clever and perceptive story, superbly to… (more)