Disgustipated’s review published on Letterboxd:
Film #14 of the "Scavenger Hunt 3" Challenge!
Task #3: A Martial Arts Film!
This is a classic tale of tragedy, told with clarity and simplicity, tenderly focusing the audience's sympathies upon the guileless characters depicted in this film.
They are humble rural folk, tending their crops during a period of civil war in 16th century feudal Japan. There is a family, Genjuro, his wife Miyagi and their young son, and living next door is Tobei and his wife Ohama.
When Genjuro is not tending his fields, he dreams of being a master craftsmen of fine pottery, wealthy and admired for his artisanship. On the other hand, Tobei longs for status and a reputation as a formidable Samurai warrior with an entourage trailing in his wake. The encroaching war provides new avenues for acting on these desires.
But these ambitions drive them to the point where they loose sight of their most cherished values, the love and welfare of their wives and children. Unfortunately, their insight into the consequences of their actions comes much too late and they experience substantial loss and shame.
Despite the selfishness and avarice that these men succumb to, it is hard to dislike them, as their mistakes are universal human follies that a great many of us are subject to at some time or another in our lives. It is a stark warning to not be indulgent in your avarice and instead stay grounded and keep your eye on what is important. Wanting more than what is good for you is a certain path to despair.
However, it the fate of the wives that is truly confronting and breaks our hearts. They understand the husbands that they love in ways that those men do not, but their warnings fall on deaf ears. And so they are left to fend for themselves as soldiers close in, raping and pillaging everything that they can get their hands on.
From the few Japanese films I have seen from this period that have been directed by the canonical masters, they are graced with a lyrical and delicate touch that imbues these films with a beauty and an honesty that affects me deeply. I look forward to tapping this rich vein of unearthed cinema in the future.