Part 2 of our 13 Modern Japanese Samurai Movies list features two different kinds of comedy, a dark, gloomy but poignant tale of a young Samurai still on the verge of manhood, and the story of a fearless, independent lady who rules Samurai and commoners in an era of death and disease.
People usually expect Samurai movies to have flashy and violent fight scenes – with dismembered limbs and lots of blood and gore. But there are also a good number of films that deal with these amazing warriors that look closely at their daily lives.
Part 2 of our Samurai movie list after the jump!
The Lady Shogun and Her Men (Ohoku) – 2010: Kou Shibasaki plays a fearless, independent-minded and an extremely alluring Lady Shogun who rules Japan during the 1700s. A deadly and mysterious plague has killed the male population and it is up to the women to lead the nation. Of course, you cannot put men in the subordinate role without them making a big fuzz, and in this case, some of these conniving male subordinates plot against each other and sacrifice their own.
About the Movie: In the year 1716 a mysterious epidemic sickens men in the country of Japan, dropping the population of men to 1/4th of its prior state. With the drastic reduction of men, the gender roles have become reversed in Japan. Woman become the dominant members of society and males are sought out for the ability to produce children.
A young man named Unoshin Mizuno (Kazunari Ninomiya) hopes to marry childhood sweetheart Onobu (Maki Horikita), but due to class differences realizes this is almost impossible. To raise his social status and also save his poor family, Unoshin Mizuno enters the Ohoku (inner chambers of the Shogun’s castle) and attempts to vie among 3,000 other men for the affection of the female shogun. What Unoshin Mizuno quickly learns about the Ohoku is that the men there are all beautiful, but highly ambitious and conniving. In this environment, the 7th Shogun Tokugawa passes away and the new Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa (Kou Shibasaki) takes the thrown and enters the Ohoku … [ source ]
Says The Examiner, describing the movie as a “gender-bender” in its review:
After quite a bit of time, we finally get to meet the woman all the fuss is made about – Yoshimune Tokugawa (Kou Shibasaki). Her role reversal is more acceptable as tomboys generally are. Lady Shogun thinks like a ruler, how her people feel, how to change cruel and outdated customs, how to save money and how to have a heart. Of course, all the chamber grooms and their prancing about in satin clothes has to end. Like silly, coquettish women who are attractive and can easily marry, they are dispensable. O’Oku will be a place for those who can’t marry – the homely, the ostracized, like a nunnery. [ read more ]
Taboo (Gohatto) – 1999: From a gender-bender Samurai film to a more controversial Samurai-themed movie dealing with homosexuality. Taboo is crafted by one of Japan’s most innovative filmmakers and a rebel at that…
Ryuhei Matsuda is an actor on a class of his own. Just like filmmaker Nagisa Oshima who approached the young Ryuhei in 1999 for his movie Taboo, Matsuda is also fearless and has no qualms in portraying controversial characters on film. Oshima, described by many, as subversive, recently died. The infamous director is known for the controversial movie In the Realm of the Senses, but it was Taboo who gave him the recognition from his peers. Taboo won Best Picture and Best Director in the 42nd Blue Ribbon Awards. [ read more ]
About the Movie: The movie takes place in Kyoto around 1865, in the last days of the traditional samurai. Threatened by new kinds of fighting, new channels of power and the opening of the country to the West, the men of the Shinsen-gumi troop adhere all the more rigidly to the samurai code, even enforcing death as a punishment for severe violations. It is strange that a candidate as effeminate as Sozaburo would be one of two finalists chosen after sword-fighting auditions, but then again there is a look in the eye of Capt. Hijikata (Beat Takeshi) that hints of hidden agendas. [ source ]
Scabbard Samurai (Saya Zamurai) – 2011: A Samurai drama with some extremely comedic twists. Among the movies on this list, Scabbard Samurai is the newest, just released in 2011, which has been described by a top film critic as “a hybrid of crazy comedy and father-daughter sentimentality”
Adds The Film Feed:
Anyone familiar with Matsumoto’s other work may be surprised by the subtlety at work here, and the emotions that this slapstick movie can evoke. The basic premise of the film is that an aged, swordless Samurai flees from a bounty, with his young daughter in tow. Within the first 9 minutes of the film, our weary protagonist is stabbed in the back, shot in the head and victim to some rather violent chiropractic work.
After facing death three times, he and his daughter are caught and arrested, only to find themselves in front of the fief’s Shogun, a man who had recently lost his wife and whose son has not smiled since her death. The law of the land states that every arrested criminal has thirty days to make the young mourner smile, in return, they can earn their freedom. [source]
About the Movie: Nomi Kanjuro (Takaaki Nomi) is a master less samurai on the run after throwing away his sword for good. He has with him his headstrong 9-year-old daughter Tae (Sea Kumada). A bounty is soon placed on Nomi Kanjuro and 3 assassins go after the score.
When Nomi Kanjuro is eventually captured and placed in front of the local feudal lord (Jun Kunimura) he is given a choice. A boy prince has been grieving ever since the death of his mother. Nobody has been able to make the boy smile. Nomi can attempt to make the boy smile within 30 days or he must commit seppuku (suicide). [source]
The Haunted Samurai (Tsukigami) – 2007: Someone from The Samurai Archives forum wrote about this movie, which is how I would have described it myself, but he made it incredibly descriptive:
I was expecting a farcical comedy but was pleased to find out that it was actually a drama with comedic elements. During the Bakumatsu, young samurai Hikoshiro Bessho has lost his position and been divorced from his wife after the samurai under his command take part in unauthorized fighting in the streets. While he’s educated, hard working, a good swordsman, and compassionate, he’s forced to live off the stipend of his goldbricking drunk of a brother. Meanwhile, one of his close friends has found fame and fortune, traveling to foreign lands and being held in high regard by all. It’s said that he only found his fortune after praying for success at the special island shrine of Inari. A drunken Bessho pratfalls down a hillside in the dark and discovers a neglected shrine, long overgrown with weeds. It’s the Inari shrine-or so he thinks. If you don’t think kanji are sometimes just as difficult for Japanese as they are for Westerners, consider that Bessho has just read one of the shrine’s kanji wrong. This isn’t the shrine he was looking for…but Bessho asks for the help of the gods enshrined there anyway. [ read more ]
Satoshi Tsumabuki is undisputedly one of the most accomplished young actors in Japan today. We’ve done a Tsumabuki blog-a-thon before to celebrate some of his best films, and this one – is perhaps one of the highlights of his acting career. He has portrayed both historical and modern characters, but as a Samurai, this movie is his best on the genre.
About the Movie: Low-ranking samurai Hikoshiro Bessho (Tsumabuki Satoshi) is hardworking, educated, and skilled in sword fighting, but as a second son, he gets nothing. He marries into another samurai family, but jealous relatives conspire to have him kicked out of the household. With nowhere to turn, he can only board with his less-than-pleased brother and sister-in-law. Already down in the pits, Hikoshiro encounters a former classmate who has since risen in the ranks, having found success after praying at a certain shrine. A drunken Hikoshiro decides to try his luck at a run-down shrine and ends up attracting the attention of the Gods of Poverty (Nishida Toshiyuki), Pestilence (Akai Hidekazu), and Death (Morisako Ei).
THE HAUNTED SAMURAI deconstructs the samurai genre and image with a comedic bent, both satirical and silly. Taking a humorously tragic look at the caste system, the film revolves around a samurai who works hard to get ahead but keeps hitting a wall because of his caste status, not to mention some unfortunate divine intervention. [ source ]
Last part of the list coming up! [Part 1 of the list here.]