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Friday, September 7, 2012

Samurai Rebellion

Recently, I was lucky enough to catch the Japanese movie - in its original Japanese language with non-original English sub-titles - Samurai Rebellion - known in Japan as Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu.

This was a 1967 movie starring
Mifune Toshiro (surname first), perhaps one of Japan's best-known and beloved actors. He's certainly one of mine, regardless of ethnicity. 

Strangely enough, Mifune was not even born in Japan. He was born in China in 1920, and did not actually set foot in Japan until 1941 when he was 21-years-old. 

Did you know that this famous Japanese actor - his birth name was Minlang Sanchuan (surname first). Now... his parents were both natural Japanese - his dad was a commercial photographer as well as an importer, and Mifune worked in his dad's photography studio for many years as a teenager. He was drafted into the Japanese army when he was 20 - regardless of where he was born or living - he was Japanese, afterall. he volunteered for the airforce and was involved in the Aerial Photography Unit during WWII.

In 1947 he took a film test and soon became a part of film lore, working with legendary film director Kurosawa Akira (surname first), starring in such flicks as Throne of Blood (Taketoki Washizu) and Rashomon (as Tajomaru).

In fact, Mifune was so beloved, it is suspected that in the anime Speed Racer, the 'M' on the hood of the car the Mach 5 and all over their equipment, represented "M" for "Mifune". I still think it meant "Mach".

Anyhow... Mifune acted in a great black and white movie Samurai Rebellion as Sasahara Isaburo (surname first).

Let me just tell you all one thing... you know how in your typical Hollywood movie good triumphs over evil and the hero gets the girl and all the money and fame? Well, in Japanese flicks the movies are all about the struggle to do the right thing without the expectation of reward or fulfillment. It sucks. But it makes for some powerful films.

Here's the gist of it:

A feudal lord gets rid of his wife who slaps him after she catches him cheating on her. She is the mother of his second child, a toddler. His first wife is dead (I believe), and has already borne him a son - now an adult. 

Anyhow, to punish his wife/or concubine, he demands that one of his samurai (Sasahara) take her in and get married to his son. He's not a high level samurai, so this is indeed punishment for the family as well as the girl... but the son... he falls in love with her. The marry and she bears him a daughter.

When the feudal lord's eldest son dies suddenly, the heir to the lord is now the toddler. The lord demands the Sasahara family give back the mother of his son... because it would look bad for the heir's mother to be married to a low-level samurai.

While son and father (played by Mifune) love the girl dearly, her mother-in-law does not.

The father and son want to keep the girl, because the father (Mifune) sees true love for his son - something he himself was denied when he married into the samurai family.

There is much angst as the feudal lord is anxious to get the mother of his son back, while Mifune's character and son do everything in their power to prevent it.

His wife and youngest son give up the girl to the lord to curry favor... but still, for the family's insolence, the samurai family must be punished.

This is the samurai rebellion.

Remember what I said about Japanese films being a downer... this one made me cry. No kidding. I kept expecting the heroes to come out on top, and kept hoping beyond hope... look... I still believe that in the ending to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - they somehow get away... because they earned that right... and good people should triumph.

I've probably given away too much as it is... but dammit... it's a great film and well worth the time and effort to track it down. I was lucky enough to see it on the Turner TV station without commercials. In fact, once a month these past two months, they have shown five or six Japanese movies in a row... all original with English subtitles... great stuff.

I will, in a blog or two, tell you about another interesting Mifune movie called The Rickshaw Man. It showed my that I made my damn LEGO rickshaws all wrong.

Andrew Joseph

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