Kyle Cubr reviews “Samurai Rebellion” playing at the Siskel Center for Cine-File

subtext-eyeOver the course of his career, Masaki Kobayashi’s films focused on a myriad of topics, from the mysticism of Japanese folklore in KWAIDAN to the experiences of the Japanese people during World War II in THE HUMAN CONDITION trilogy. One of the common themes that ran throughout his oeuvre was that of an idealistic protagonist who stands up in the face of oppression and who tries to right the wrongs that are seen. In SAMURAI REBELLION, Toshiro Mifune fills this role quite nicely. Set in the Edo Era of Japanese history (around 1725), Mifune plays an older swordsman whose son reluctantly must take their clan leader’s former lover as his wife. Surprisingly, the marriage is a happy one and the two have a child, but when the clan leader’s heir dies, he kidnaps his former concubine back, leading to a crisis of ethics and honor. Mifune’s character is roused from his otherwise peaceful existence to support his family. Kobayashi’s film is starkly anti-feudalism and is more than happy to denigrate the excesses found within it. While its title may be misleading given the nature of Kobayashi’s previous film, HARAKARI, SAMURAI REBELLION touches more on the ethos of the samurai rather than the usual traditional fighting. This broader exploration includes a series of tense negotiations about morality, and much like 12 ANGRY MEN, a sense of claustrophobia sets in as the framing of each individual comes tighter and tighter. The garden sequence near the film’s climax is a stunning work of choreography, lightning, and blocking. Kobayashi’s film is a well-crafted narrative about the rising of the common man against his oppressors, and whose bleak tone expresses the realities of life for those that lived during the era.

 

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