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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Samurai!

As is traditional most Fridays, I moseyed on over to the Chicago Reader's web page to see if there was anything in the way of Music, Theatre, or Fillums that might tempt us to leave our swanky new couch. This week I hit the theatre listings first, and there wasn't anything in particular that tempted. Moving on to music, I shook my fist at the heavens that I'll miss the Dolly/Loretta tribute show next week. I also paused to say, "Chieftans? At Symphony Center? Really?" before moving on.

Samurai Cinema! That's right, ladies and gents, the Music Box Theatre started its week-long Samurai film fest tonight, and we not only took in the first two offerings, we've devised a plan to maximize our Samurai viewing over the next few days.

Tonight our first feature was Kobayahisi's Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu (Samurai Rebellion), which M admits to having enjoyed quite sincerely in the same breath that he admits it was a chyck flick. Set in 1725, made in 1967, this features a just-post-Kurosawa Toshiro Mifune as Isaburo, an aging samurai and nominal head of the family into which he's married. Having come of age in a time when samurai warfare has been replaced by backroom deals among the heads of clans, Isaburo has long been resigned to both his sinecure and his life as a hen-pecked husband.

However, when the local lord attempts to foist an unwanted, unruly concubine on his son, Isaburo is willing to risk position and power to save his son from a loveless marriage. Yogoro, feels the weight of his responsibilities as elder son, however, and agrees to the marriage for the good of the family. Happily for both Yogoro, his bride, and his father, though, the marriage turns out to be a love match. As Yogoro and Ichi fall in love, Isaburo's zest for life is restored.

When the local Lord's heir dies, the son whom Ichi was forced to leave behind becomes the heir. Realizing the ill-treatment of the mother of the heir is likely to come to light, the Lord and his cronies demand Ichi's return to the castle. Under pressure from their immediate family and more distant kinsmen, as well as her own natal family, Ichi stands by her identity as Yogoro's wife (and the mother of their infant daughter). When Yogoro falters and begs her to return as he thinks is his duty as the head of the family, Isaburo urges them both to stand by their love, no matter what.

It's such a complicated and emotional film. Despite having a good chuckle at having unwittingly tricked my spouse into a chyck flick, I stand by its merits as a wonderful love story. But it's no less a father and story with a beautifully developed plot. And just when it seems like it might stop at the same point as a much-better-than-average American film, there's another fulfilling subplot about a political system that pits what may be the last two men with any kind of honor or personal morality against one another.

And if you're a complete emotional stone, it's not as though Kobayashi doesn't bring The Art to the party. I need a lie down if I think too hard about the intracacies of shooting 11 different people kneeling around the perimeter of a 9x9 room with rice-paper walls. And the more public dealings at the border of the house that involve either shooting single takes or raking the rock gardens over and over and over again? It's a pretty movie and a touching movie and really fantastically acted movie.

The next feature was the perfect complement: Kiru (Kill). I'm still in denial that the star of this film was Tatsuya Nakadai, who happens also to have been Mifune's foil in Samurai Rebellion (and Hidetora Ichimonji in Ran, and, well, Kurosawa's post-Mifune Mifune). In Kiru, he's Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, and Tony Curtis (circa Some Like it Hot) all rolled into one.

The Reader's synposis notes that Kiru is the Kihachi Okamoto film that is most influenced by Westerns in general and Sergio Leone in particular. That's obvious in Nakadai's character (whom everyone keeps calling "the vagrant"), in the music, and in the near-Dickensian coincidences on which the rather ridiculous plot hinges.

All the same, Kiru is so much funnier (and so effortlessly so compared with Leone's westerns [though I admit that my view of Leone is colored by having had the first {and, as it turns out second worst} hangover of my life when seeing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time]). But amidst all the slapstick, Kiru is as sophisticated a critique of shogunate-era corruption and the tunnel-vision aspirations of peasants who buy into the schemes of the rich and famous in the hopes of making it themselves.

Tomorrow's offerings are the same as today's, but Sunday and Monday, there's another Kobayashi-Okamoto double bill. Most likely on Monday, we'll be checking out Harakiri and Sword of Doom. On Wednesday, I'm hoping to meet the ball and chain after my classes for Yojimbo, but I won't get to see Hidden Fortress, alas, and on Thursday, we'll both miss Seven Samurai. Tuesday's up in the air. That's Samurai Saga and Three Outlaw Samurai.

More samurai festivals!

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