Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vendetta of Samurai

This lesser-known entry in the samurai film canon will be of great interest to Kurosawa fans. Vendetta of Samurai (Araki Mataemon: Ketto kagiya no tsuji, 1952) features four of the seven samurai from Seven Samurai (Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Daisuke Kato and Minoru Chiaki), as well as rubber-faced old farmer Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari). Vendetta relates the true story of a meticulously planned ambush and attack upon a mounted party protecting a murderer.

Leading the revenge is Mataemon (Mifune), a sword instructor and brother-in-law to young Kazuma (Akihiko Katayama) whose brother was recently slain by fellow clansman Matagoro (Chiaki). Mataemon and Kazuma are joined by chubby old Buemon (Toranosuke Ogawa) and chubby young Rokusuke (Daisuke Kato), forming a four-man vendetta squad. (Sorry, I realize that's a lot of names to throw at you, but not nearly as many as come flying at you in the film itself!)

Anyhow, the whole gimmick of the film, and it's a good one, is to show you what such an event must have really been like, in contradistinction to the legendary battle it became over time (in which Mataemon supposedly slew some 36 men). The opening of the film portrays just such a battle, a kabuki moment of sheer fantasy in which we see Mifune, Shimura and others covered in make-up, Mifune practically doing pirouettes as he slashes attackers left and right. I couldn't believe what I was seeing; I'm well acquainted with the work of director Kazuo Mori, and such corny, stagey samurai foppery was completely incongruous with his style. Then the voiceover explained things: This is how this famous incident is traditionally portrayed, whereas the film we're about to see is the real deal, how things really happened. I appreciate what the film sets out to accomplish, and consider it largely a success. There are moments of tedium, but I understand they're deliberate, in service to the realism of an actual ambush -- there's bound to be longueurs, no getting around it.

Vendetta was a Toho production, although Kazuo Mori is better known for his work at Daiei, helming scores of films throughout the 50s and 60s including a number of Zatoichis and Nemuri Kyoshiros. Of the films of his I've seen, my favorite is probably The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Zoku Zatoichi monogatari, 1962), starring Shintaro Katsu and Tomisaburo Wakayama.

Vendetta of Samurai is an eye-opening look at what really happens when frightened men with big swords find themselves up against it. Some find courage, others lose heart, and some will invariably lose their lives. This is one film that tells it like it is and doesn't sugar coat the stark realities.


The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've just watched 'The Tale of Zatoichi Continues', which might be my first Mori film, and I loved it.

As someone who considers 'Seven Samurai' the greatest film ever made and Akira Kurosawa quite possibly the greatest director, if not in the very top rank of them, I'm intrigued by the inclusion of two of Kurosawa's favourites, Shimura and Mifune, not to mention two more of the seven.

You certainly make this film worth checking out, Patrick.
But you mentioned that you're well acquainted with the work of director Kazuo Mori and based on what you say about this film I'm inclined to believe that the Zatoichi film might be somewhat typical of him.
(that final scene was classic Western; part 'OK Corral', and, looking forward, reminiscent of Sergio Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy
(I wonder could he have seen it?)

Patrick Galloway said...

It's always tricky when speculating about whether Japanese directors were influenced by Italian film. I'm only aware of one who ever admitted to looking at them, and that was Hideo Gosha.

In the case of Seven Samurai and Tale of Zatoichi Continues, both films predate Fist Full of Dollars, so any influence is strictly one-way.

The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Thats what I meant
Could Leone have seen that Zatoichi'?

Watching a Suzuki recently, 'Detective Bureau 2-3...', I was wondering whether Melville was a fan of his, or vice versa, and whether John Woo was a fan of Suzuki's; more likely)

Popular Hollywood cinema would generally have been readily accessible to cinema-goers in Italy, Japan and France; its just a question of each country's respective accessibility to the other in the 1960's

Al said...

I would be grateful to know where and how you found this film. I would very much like to buy a copy of this film given how much I appreciate the director and actors. Thanks,

Patrick Galloway said...

To tell you the truth, I have no memory of where or how I saw that film. I don't even know if I have it on disk! It's terrible when you're old ...


Al said...

Thanks for the update. In that case, thanks for the review! Please consider updating me if you ever come across it! Cheers

Patrick Galloway said...

Hey, I found it. You can get it here:

You're welcome.

Al said...

Thanks! This is great help. I assume this is a trustworthy site so I am proceeding. Keep up the good work