Samurai Rebellion, 1967. Directed by Masakai Kobayashi. Toshiro Mifune, Takeshi Kata, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa.

Isaburo, an aging samurai must accept the wedding of his son, Yogoro, to Iichi, a former concubine of the local warlord, a woman who attacked her master and disgraced herself despite providing him with an heir. To his family's surprise and delight, Iichi proves to be a loving wife and model daughter in law. When the warlord's first born son dies, however, Iichi's son becomes the next in line, prompting the warlord to demand Iichi's return. Isaburo must comply with his overlord's wishes or else face the wrath of the entire clan. He refuses the warlord's orders and makes a stand against the injustice done to his family, resulting in a final conflagration that engulfs his entire family and his entire clan.

This extraordinary samurai movie from Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan) makes a powerful statement about individual liberty that is genuinely surprising in a Japanese samurai movie. The society in these movies is so rigid that any kind of deviation from the bushido code can only result in heartache and disaster. Maybe that's why the movie is so powerful. Isaburo's rebellion against his overlord is simply unthinkable in his society, even if his cause is just. It makes his eventual doom even more tragic. Toshiro Mifune invests Isaburo with considerable dignity and passion--it's one of his best performances--and when the film moves into high gear, Mifune's cinematic anima (as distinct as, say, John Wayne's) takes command of the movie. Kobayashi mounts this performance in a richly textured cinematic framework. His command of cinema is striking, employing freeze frames, jump cuts, and dolly shots with confidence and precision. This is a good-looking movie, filled with strong imagery. When it moves into high gear as an action movie, Samurai Rebellion invests its swordplay with passion and meaning. This is not action for the sake of action, but is the externalized rage of its characters. As such, it carries a hell of a punch..

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