Posted by martinteller on August 24, 2012
The ambitious warlord Hideyoshi (Tsutomu Yamazaki) is taking lessons from Rikyu (Rentaro Mikuni), the master of the tea ceremony. Hideyoshi is a blustery man whose boorishness is not compatible with the intricate subtleties of Rikyu’s craft, but the tutor humbly indulges his pupil. But when he questions the lord’s plans to invade China, the insubordination stirs up waves of discord.
The character of Rikyu is based on a real person in the late 16th century, who not only has a profound influence on the tradition of the tea ceremony, but also Japanese culture at large. He refined Buddhist philosophy into an aesthetic ideal of simplicity and harmony. Teshigahara (in one of his last movies, and his first narrative film in 17 years) explores the conflict and contrast between Rikyu’s quiet art and the ruthless ambition of the arrogant Hideyoshi.
I had a slightly difficult time getting into the film, to be honest. Although not terribly slow, it is sluggish (Kagemusha came to mind) without quite enough of a meditative quality to hold my attention. But it does get progressively more interesting, and Mikuni and Yamazaki are both quite good. Unfortunately, the DVD was a wreck. Pan ‘n’ scan, murky image, subpar white subtitles with no borders. So I find it difficult to comment on the visual qualities.
I was intrigued enough with the characters, the dramatic beats of the story and the thematic content to stick with it, although I certainly wouldn’t rank it among Teshigahara’s best. Rating: Good (71)