Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Kazuo Mori’s semi-satirical action flick pops the bubble of valor surrounding the samurai genre. Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura – they’d later be featured in “The Seven Samurai” – play best friends who find themselves on opposite sides of a feudal spat. Their missions aren’t appealing: both are sworn to protect young men who are not worth protecting. The situation anticipates Peckinpah, but where Bloody Sam might have emphasized its romantic fatalism, Mori highlights the absurdity of its wastefulness. Still, like Peckinpah, Mori has a soft spot for the trappings of male camaraderie: The scenes between the sympathetic adversaries, while not belabored, are touching and heartfelt. (When the pair discuss their predicament over tea, their communication is largely subverbal. Beneath the pleasantries they’re sizing each other up; they’re also exchanging condolences.) Most of the picture occurs in individualized flashback, like “Citizen Kane,” as the members of Mifune’s team reflect on the five-year period during which they’ve pursued their quarry. In place of dissolves Mori uses hard cuts to transition into and out of these sequences. Though the editing is deft, and sound is used to help bridge the gaps, there’s no denying the temporal confusion this generates. I suspect that confusion is intentional: It’s Mori’s way of evoking the mindset of his warriors, who exist in a timeless state defined by fear and anticipation. This is an action movie in which the dead moments surrounding battles are more important than the battles themselves. In fact, I can’t think of a picture that works harder to undermine its action sequences. Most are cut so that they play out in isolated segments, devoid of momentum and the suspense generated by clearly delineated cause and effect. The movie’s one semi-traditional action bit occurs right at its start. It’s a fictionalized premonition of the sloppy, somewhat ignoble fight between Mifune and Shimura that closes the picture. In it we see Mifune slaughter 30 enemies in slapstick double-time. Intentionally overblown, it’s meant to reflect how history regards the battle — that is, as a grandiose spectacle rather than a descent into baseness. Akira Kurosawa wrote the screenplay. It’s available on Hulu Plus.
- A nice write-up.