Saturday, November 21, 2009
On a snowy spring day in 1860, throngs of men gather at the gates of Japan's Edo Castle in hopes of assassinating Shogunate leader Ii Naosuke. Upset with the way his life is going, ronin Niiro Tsuruchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) becomes involved in the coup, ultimately seeking a spot in a great samurai house. With no family to speak of and a broken heart, Niiro has nothing to lose -- and will stop at nothing to become a full-fledged samurai. Will he succeed?
This is an awesome movie. This movie is about one of the major events in Japanese history, the assassination of Ii Naosuke, the defacto head of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1860. The Tokugawa were headed by a child shogun at this time, so Ii Naosuke wielded the real power. And he used that power with bloody efficiency. The Tokugawa had been growing weak for decades and after the American Black Ships sailed into Tokyo Bay in the early 1850s, the Tokugawa's weakness became all the more apparent. But Naosuke was intent on reestablishing Tokugawa supremacy and so he instigated the bloody Ansei Purge. All those he deemed disloyal or a threat, even daimyo lords, were either imprisoned or put to death. A group of Mito samurai felt it was their duty to eliminate Naosuke. And that is what this movie is about. This group of Mito samurai along with other disaffected samurai such as Niiro Tsuruchiyo, plotted to kill Naosuke.
This movie instantly joins my select group of favorite films alongside Seven Samurai, Seppuku and several others. This was a great, great movie. So much better than Shinsengumi: Assassins of Honor which is another film starring Mifune that takes place during the same time period. Samurai Assassin was awesome because it was not just a simple retelling of this event. The movie includes a deeper story about Tsuruchiyo's background that comes to light in a shocking realization at the end of the film. I have seen several great battle scenes in various films involving groups of samurai and this film has one of the best. The final assassination battle involved dozens of samurai in a brutally realistic battle to the death. Incredible. If you are familiar with the historical events of this period, especially regarding Ii Naosuke, then this film will mean so much more. However, if you are not familiar with this time period, this is still an awesome movie to watch. Unlike Shinsengumi, which will make little sense to those not familiar with that period, Samurai Assassin will still be a highly entertaining film even if you do not know the history behind it.