Shogun Samurai

Year: 1978
Kinji Fukasaku
Rating: 6.0

A.K.A The Yagyu Conspiracy

This period film based on real historical figures certainly feels very conventional considering that the director is Kinji Fukasaku. Of course, over his career he made films from every genre at one time or another but he is most famous for his realistic Yakuza films (the classic Yakuza Paper series among others), his off beat films like Black Rose Madam, the sci-fi films Green Slime and Message from Space and of course the film that made him famous in the west Battle Royale. This film feels like a TV movie with its flat cinematography, raft of constantly changing characters, scenes that go by in a flash and a narration that jumps in from time to time to explain what the hell is going on. The film in fact led to a TV series called the Yagyu Conspiracy that was 39 episodes and starred many of the same actors. There was obviously much room for developing this story as the film just doesn't have the time to do so even at 130 minutes. The TV series gets an 8.7 rating on IMDB so something I would love to see.

As I said the main characters are all based on historical figures but Fukasaku strays dramatically from the facts. In the film the year is 1624 and the second Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada has just passed away without naming an heir. He has two sons and the title of the new Shogun should naturally go to his eldest son Iemitsu, but Iemitsu has a large birthmark on his face and a stutter. So the other son Tadanaga was much favored by his father and had been expected to be named. Both sons have various factions supporting them and when it turns out the father was poisoned battle lines are drawn. On Iemitsu's side is the Yagyu family whose father has been the fencing instructor for Iemitsu since he was a youth. Two of his children are played by familiar names - Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi. It all turns very tragic and ironically it never had to since the younger brother had no desire to push his brother aside until circumstances forced him to try. Chiba plays Jubei Yagyu, a historical legendary swordsman with his trademark eye-patch whose character has appeared in loads of films, TV and books.

It is a big film with a large cast - even a cameo from Toshiro Mifune and Tetsuro Tamba and with appearances from many actors who had lengthy careers in Japanese film. There is a lot of action that is well done primarily of the sword fighting kind with a couple large set pieces. Chiba and Etsuko are often in the midst of it. Historically dramatic happenings - but then out of curiosity I did a bit of reading on the characters. Hmmm. In fact, the father Tokugawa Hidetada wasn't poisoned and didn't even die at that time! He retired and passed on the Shogun title to Iemitsu. And so everything else that follows was basically Fukasaku having fun. He had me fooled! The real Iemitsu turned out to be an awful human being - he crucified Christians, kicked all foreigners out of the country and banned all ships from leaving Japan for foreign shores with a penalty of death, forced his brother to commit seppuku, killed his gay lover in the baths and executed thousands in a rebellion. That would make a good movie.