It took three decades for Japan’s Kon Ichikawa to get this on the screen. Co-scripted by Ichikawa with Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita & Masaki Kobayashi, the project died aborning when their indie production company tanked with the commercial failure of their first release, Kurosawa’s DODE’KA-DEN/'70.* Last of the classicists and sole survivor of the group, Ichikawa was a lively 85 when this got made, and he still turns out one gorgeous product. (Especially so in AnimEigo’s DVD transfer.) Koji Yakusho is delightfully blunt & devious as the new town magistrate, sent from Edo (ancient Tokyo) to clean up a notorious vice district. The problem is that the long-entrenched Council of Elders are all receiving a generous ‘cut’ of the illegal profits on drugs, booze & sex traffic. Others have failed at the task, but Yakusho has worked up a disruptive & highly original plan of attack, rudeness instead of readiness, and he has a couple of inside helpers to shake things up. There’s more talk & strategy than action here (the story winds up being a bit too one-sided for its own good), but it’s good talk, good strategy and, when it does show up, good action. All beautifully laid out by Ichikawa who keeps his storyline, characters & action clear as a bell. And note how he uses a strong-willed gal pal from Edo and a deadpan pair of official record-keepers to make most of the Japanese comic business scrutable to Western eyes. The film’s a treat.
CONTEST: *Hmm, this set up sounds a lot like the one that played out in post-WWII Hollywood when three top directors & a studio production chief opened an independent company that went bust after their first release didn’t live up to financial expectations. Name the company, the ‘disappointing’ film they released (a second title retained the banner-head, but was ‘packaged’ as a studio deal) and the three heavy-weight directors involved to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of a NetFlix DVD.