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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Japanese helmer Kihachi Okamoto added elegance & aimlessness to the usual mix of stylized violence & philosophy in this famous samurai tale. The story is from a serialized novel, previously filmed, stitched together to follow the discomforting saga of a loose-cannon samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai in superb form) who goes from one fighting school to another, picking up new skills in swordmanship and, in similar vein, from one murderous act to another. The bodies pile up quickly as Nakadai cuts thru swaths of less able swordsman, sometimes with reason, sometimes without. He’s menacing, enraged & pathological; a bogey man?, a force of nature?, a renunciation of society? Yet, when he sees a superior master in action (Toshiro Mifune, natch), with levels of martial skills & honor Nakadai cannot fathom, he begins to retreat into a more conventional madness. Okamoto imbues the film with the logic of a living nightmare and keeps the killings as sudden & abrupt as the old gag about the quick-drawing gunfighter, ‘Do you want to see it again?’ (Those who saw Gordie Howe ‘invisibly' check opponents for the Detroit Red Wings back in his prime will know that such things are possible.) But you’ll also see why the popular audience was migrating toward more modern movie mayhem.

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