Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

June 19, 2011

Movie Review: Revenge (1964)

Takahiro Imai is not as well known in the west as Kurosawa, Ozu, Mitzoguchi, or any number of critically respected Japanese directors. That is a shame, and may have much to do with his well-publicized Marxist leanings. But polemics aside, and no matter where you stand politically, the fact is he was a master story teller with a great passion for social justice. I am very grateful for AnimEigo for releasing some of his most important works in beautiful subtitled editions. The latest I've seen is 1964's REVENGE (ADAUCHI), which is an unflinching and unsentimental indictment of the futility of revenge, and a powerful condemnation of any system which expects the individual to sacrifice his life and soul for a rigid code of conduct. It is beautiful to look at, masterfully suspenseful, and gut-wrenchingly powerful.

Buy Revenge on DVD

REVENGE was written by Shinobu Hashimoto, who is credited on many of Kurosawa's films, including ROSHOMON and SEVEN SAMURAI.

It tells the story of Ezaki Shinpachi (Kin'nosuke Nakamura) who dares to speak his mind to an elder of the important Okumo clan. When he receives a challenge to an illegal private duel, he is too proud to not accept. The elder winds up fatally wounded in an off-screen duel (Imai takes great care not to glorify the violence necessary in telling this type of story). Both clans appeal the magistrate for justice in the matter, and Shinpachi is ruled officially insane to avoid further bloodshed and to not bring scandal (and lower stipends) to the community. Shinpachi takes up residence in a monastery, hoping to return home when the matter blows over. But the brother of the slain man, Okumo Shume, becomes obsessed with revenge and goes after Shinpachi. That fight we see, brilliantly staged and powerfully suspenseful. Shinpachi kills his rival out of sheer righteous determination, being by far the weaker swordsman.

Injustice piles upon injustice, and Shinpachi, with the stress of his ostracism, nearly does lose his mind as his accusers suggested.

Finally, the magistrates, unwilling to admit their failings in how they handled the matter all along, arrange an official duel between Shinpachi and the youngest son of the Okumo clan. The impending duel becomes a circus, attended by much pomp and public excitement. Shinpachi agrees to let the younger Okumo slay him without resistance for the sake of his own clan (he is even entreated to do so by his own tearful mother). But the Okumo clan decides to stack the deck with a dozen or so "assistants," there to mortally wound Shinpachi and allow the young Okumo to strike the killing blow. Shinpachi is not willing to endure this final insult, to be robbed even of a little dignity in the way he dies. So he fights back in one of the most powerful endings I have watched in a long time. There is no sentimental heroics or phony staging in the final battle. It feels and looks real, and the suspense is nail-biting.

In the end, nobody saves face. It becomes a community bound by shame.

Imai, as he did in BUSHIDO: THE CRUEL CODE OF THE SAMURAI (1963), shows the cruelty of a the Samurai system, which values rigid codes and abstract ideas of "honor" over human life and dignity. This film is more focused than the earlier one, and I didn't find a false note in it. It's a great movie by any estimation.

No comments:

Post a Comment