Director: Kinji Fukasaku
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.