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Bakumatsu taiyôden (A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era)

Posted by martinteller on September 2, 2013

At the tail end of the era of the shogun, Saheiji (Frankie Sakai) tries to scam some free services at a brothel.  When his hustle is discovered, he’s put to work as an assistant to repay his debt.  Saheiji “The Grifter” puts his talents to use making money on the side.  A number of other characters populate the establishment.  Osome (Sachiko Hidari) and Koharu (Yôko Minamida) are rival prostitutes, vying for the spot of top earner in the house.  Osome backs out of a suicide pact with the acne-scarred Kinzo (Shoichi Ozawa), whose “ghost” returns to haunt her.  Koharu gets in hot water when her clients learn she’s promised herself to all of them as their bride.  A group of rogue samurai led by Takasugi (Yujiro Ishihara) plots to blow up the Foreign Quarter.  The carpenter Chobei agrees to pay his debts by selling his daughter.  And the brothel’s owners are coping with their rebellious son Tokusaburo (Yasukiyo Umeno).

This film is gathering new attention with the release of new Blu-Ray by Masters of Cinema, but has flown under the radar for a long time, despite appearing in the lofty position of #4 on Kinema Junpo’s list of the top 100 Japanese movies of all time.  Although right behind Ozu, Kurosawa and Naruse on the list, director Yûzô Kawashima is something of an unknown quantity in Western cinephile circles (co-writer Shohei Imamura is far more well-known).

The movie is a lively comedy, with a high energy level due to the charisma of star Sakai and the multiple subplots being juggled.  The camerawork is also beautifully done, with elaborate shots set up quite gracefully and spot-on framing.  It’s an amusing film that uses a historical period to comment on the contemporary situation (as well as a light parody of the popular “sun tribe” movies of the day, as the title indicates).  However, I wonder if other recent reviewers might be letting the film’s relative rarity and Kinema Junpo prestige cloud their judgment.  While it is certainly entertaining to a satisfying degree, it’s not exceptionally funny or anything, and it must be said that some of the plot threads are more confusing than they ought to be.

Still, it’s possible I’m missing some of the finer points.  And either way, it’s quite enjoyable, with some really fun performances.  Rating: Good (76)

IMDb
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