18 people found this review helpful
Mar 13, 2014
Completed 1
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
Being a fan of the golden Japanese cinema, you’ve got to love Akira Kurosawa; he’s a legend after all but there are few films that made me put Masaki Kobayachi at the same level as Kurosawa if not a little higher, Samurai Rebellion is one of those films.

Set in the peaceful Edo era, the film is a human drama instead of a straight chambara (swords play) film like the title displays so do not expect heads rolling and straightforward Samurai action the whole time. Once again, Kobayachi harshly criticize the ancient Japanese feudal system and the Bushido codes of Samurai honour that requires blind loyalty.

Screenwriter Hashimoto (Kurosawa’s regular) did a magnificent job with the story’s shades, turns and flashbacks in a way that would make you anticipate the developments of the story; it may feel slow paced at times but that’s the usual Kobayachi way of building strong tension to end it with a blow; heroism was created little by little until it reached the end. The term “Rebellion” isn’t exactly what you think when reading the title, it’s not the story of a samurai establishing justice or honoring his lord, this is the story of an elder samurai’s own codes of honour to help his son and daughter-in-law through the injustice caused by their clan’s lord and the closest higher-ups. Instead of blind loyalty and accepting unfairness without asking questions, they decided to go against their feudal lord, the system and the world they live in.

Samurai Rebellion is also viewed as a family drama with many displayed emotions and connections. It also contains the most touching romantic story I’ve ever seen in any Samurai film; the sacrifices, the mutual understandings and the painful injustice leading to separation. However, that doesn’t deny the presence of action especially at the end. The dual and the fight sequences were splendid considering the fact that they were used to get all of that intensity that’s been constructing during the whole film. It made the perfect finale of the film.

Is it really necessary to talk about acting? It’s Mifune Toshiro, the legendary best actor Japan ever knew and one of the better actors in the world; people usually know Mifune in Kurosawa’s films where he always shined but let me tell you, Mifune’s performance with Kobayachi was one of his finest works ever; he did a flawless job with the character of an elder samurai who built a hero out of himself to confront injustice. There’s also Nakadai Tatsuya, the second Japanese legend. Although he was only a supporting role, he delivered so well and I must say that I completely loved his character that sounded mysterious; he was someone who had to be torn apart between his greed to be the best swordsman in the clan, to be a friend or to serve his lord according to the samurai codes of honour. Someone else deserve all the praise is Tsukasa Yoko, she had one of the strongest female performances I’ve seen in the golden Japanese cinema. Her character Ichi was also one of the better female characters displayed in Samurai films.

The black and white cinematography was top-notch just like the camera angles and the smooth close-ups because Kobayachi is a masterful director after all. What also should be highlighted is the superb music choice to empathize the emotional involvement.

Watch if:
-You like Samurai films.
-You want to discover old Japanese films.
-You like Toshiro Mifune because this is one of his better works.
-You like Masaki Kobayachi’s way of making films.

Do not watch if:
-You dislike old films (black and white).
-You dislike Samurai films.

Samurai Rebellion is a timeless Kobayachi masterpiece that defies the usual definitions of samurai codes of honor in the most brutal tragic way.

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The Butterfly
2 people found this review helpful
May 15, 2023
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 8.5
Music 8.5
Rewatch Value 8.0
This review may contain spoilers

"Each must live his own life"

In Samurai Rebellion, there was a rebellion, but not of swords and muskets, a rebellion against the rigid samurai code that the local lord had subrogated with tyrannical orders levied according to his whims. Three people stood up for the injustice done to them in the name of order and tore down the societal walls suffocating them in order to be individuals with their own wills and to fight for their basic human rights no matter the cost.

The film begins with samurais Sasahara Isaburo (Mifune Toshiro) and his buddy Tatewaki (Nakadai Tatsuya) grumbling about how boring their lives are in the equivalent of middle management jobs for the local lord. Isaburo is in charge of cleaning and counting the weapons in the local artillery while Tatewaki is a glorified gate guard. Isaburo has been stranded in a loveless marriage for 20 years to a harridan who rules the household with a sharpened steel tongue while he plays along to keep the peace. Upon arriving home, he receives orders from the lord that his oldest son, Yogoro, is to marry the lord's dismissed concubine. Lady Ichi was rumored to have gone wild when she saw the lord with another woman even striking him and tearing at his clothes. Isaburo seeks a way out for his son, not wanting to relegate him to the same marital hell he's lived in. Yogoro realizes the penalty for refusing and acquiesces. In a turn of good luck, Ichi is actually the perfect wife and she and Yogoro fall in love and have a daughter, Tomi. When questioned about her behavior with the lord, it turned out that the lord had given her no choice and forced her to be his concubine even though she was engaged and 30 years younger than he was. Their marital bed was torment for Ichi, "like dragging a pure silk kimono through the mud".

Isaburo retires and makes Yogoro the head of the household. Just as everything is going well, the lord's son dies leaving only Ichi's son she had to leave behind as an heir. The heir's mother could not be married to a vassal so she was ordered to return to the castle. Isaburo had gone along with his wife and lord in everything they'd ever asked no matter how degrading. Seeing his son and daughter-in-law having the kind of love he'd never experienced lit a fire in the retired samurai. Breaking up a loving family at the lord's capricious notion was cruel and barbaric and one too many slashes against the family's honor. Though there were family councils and political councils held advising them to comply, the three stayed strong in refusing until Ichi was kidnapped and returned to the lord. At this point, Isaburo and Yogoro knew the score. The lord's actions would be frowned upon by other daimyos and the shogunate if discovered but getting the information to Edo would be perilous. The lord's men approached Tatewaki and asked him to kill Isaburo, knowing he was the only man who stood a chance against him. Tatewaki told them to negotiate or there would be a mountain of dead men.

The gun on the mantel at the beginning of the film was the lord stating that Isaburo and Tatewaki would never fight because it would hurt the family of whoever lost. You know before the final credits, the two will battle. And by the time the fight against the lord's men begins you will also be blood thirsty for the mountain of dead men after all of the sorrow and suffering.

Tsukasa Yoko as the Lady Ichi was the emotional glue holding the story together as she finally found a safe and loving place to call home and also had to show determination in the face of insidious threats. Mifune Toshiro gave one of his best performances. Initially, he was the henpecked husband with little to live for and slowly gained the fire and fierce attitude we are used to seeing in his samurai characters. Not only true love, but human honor beyond the samurai code was worth fighting for. As he determined to break the rules, he was seen walking on the carefully raked sand in the courtyard instead of on the path. The symmetrical and even lines in the house were purposely carved and nailed askew in defiance of the classic norms. Isaburo also gained a self-confidence beyond his skill with a sword. "For the first time in my life I feel alive!"

Samurai Rebellion blended low key romance, family drama, and political drama in a battle against corruption and a rigid, unyielding system that demanded complete obedience even in the face of abuse and cruelty. There was no cathartic ending, the three main characters were aware where their fate lie and embraced it. They knew the consequences for their act of rebellion for themselves and their families, they simply could no longer tolerate being treated as inhuman. This film was a story of love and the need for dignity which also happened to also be a samurai film. Well worth seeking out if you like old films or Mifune Toshiro.


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Samurai Rebellion (1967) poster



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