Samurai Rebellion ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

It's been said that the best samurai movies are anti-samurai movies; I'm not sure of the truthfulness of that contention, but it is certainly true of the samurai films of Masaki Kobayashi, who five years before had helmed Hara-kiri, one of the best anti-samurai films of all time.

Toshiro Mifune is Isaburo Sasahara, a proficient swordsman who married into a good family and is not allowed by his wife to forget it for a minute. He holds a good rank in his clan. His daimyo asks him to marry his son, Yogoro (Go Kato) to the lady Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa), who has just borne the daimyo a son, but attacked him when she found he had taken another mistress while she was recovering.

Isaburo attempts to avoid the marriage, but Yogoro agrees for the sake of his family. Ichi actually turns out to be a humble, attentive wife, who even deals well with Yogoro's hateful mother. When Ichi tells Yogoro her side of the story, he gains great sympathy for her (and we, in the audience, yell "Fuck yeah!" when she clocks the daimyo), and the two fall in love. A year later, their daughter is born.

A year after that, however, the daimyo's first heir dies after an illness and Ichi's son, still in the daimyo's care, becomes the heir... but that means that Ichi must return to the castle - and the daimyo - to legitimize him, leaving Yogoro and her daughter behind.

Isaburo, having watched his son achieve the loving marriage he had always wished for but never gotten, says no, an unheard of thing in samurai society.

Kobayashi's favorite theme seems to fall into the "individual against society" mode, and he is extremely good at playing it out. Isaburo, his son and daughter-in-law are going up against one of the most layered, reified social structures in history. The cry of "this is not how it is done" is voiced over and over again, by both sides, but matters finally boil down to Isaburo's fatalistic but still defiant, "Each must live his own life."

It will eventually reach the point where Isaburo will prove his reputation is not mere boasting, but that moment is long in coming - don't expect an action-packed battle movie. But when it comes, it feels earned. As with Hara-kiri, no matter how much you may root for these characters, there is no way they are going to be able to win. At most, they will get a small measure of revenge on those who so thoughtlessly ruined their lives - but history will not know this. They will not be remembered. Their story is inconvenient to the society and the structure they rise up against. But they will rise up anyway.

Because each must live their own life.