Monday, July 5, 2010

REVIEW: Samurai Banners

風林火山 (Fûrin kazan)

Released: 1969

Hiroshi Inagaki

Toshirô Mifune
Yoshiko Sakuma
Kinnosuke Nakamura
Yûjirô Ishihara
Katsuo Nakamura

Running time: 166 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

In "Samurai Banners," director Hiroshi Inagaki of the Musashi Miyamoto-focused "Samurai" trilogy treads through familiar territory. The story, from a novel by Yasushi Inoue, is situated in feudal Japan , beginning in the year 1543. Toshirô Mifune, who portrayed Miyamoto in Inagaki’s trilogy, is Kansuke Yamamoto, one of two ronin who meet in the film’s monochrome prologue. Both men are desperate to acquire a position with Lord Shingen Takeda (Kinnosuke Nakamura) of the Kai domain and discuss a way to display their swordsmanship in front of his aide, Nobusato Itagaki (Katsuo Nakamura). When the planned attack takes place, Yamamoto seizes the opportunity to cut the other ronin down, proving his willingness to defend the lords from would-be attackers while also eliminating his competition. Shortly afterwards, Yamamoto is given a stipend and one hundred men to command, thus commencing his service with Takeda as a formidable samurai warrior. He harbors a grand vision consisting of nothing less than complete rulership over all territories stretching to the sea – a dream gradually made into reality by his cunning strategies. Along the way, he falls in love with Princess Yu (Yoshiko Sakuma), daughter of a lord who is betrayed by Takeda after being lulled by the promise of peace. She becomes Takeda’s concubine and provides him with an heir. Yamamoto remains utterly devoted to both mother and child as he pushes his grand campaign forward.

"Samurai Banners" dedicates a remarkable amount of time and attention towards the military plans formed by Yamamoto, Takeda and the other lords gathered in their entourage. The film’s plot consists almost entirely of Takeda systematically confronting one opponent after another, working with Yamamoto to prepare castle sieges, anticipate enemy reinforcements and initiate battles. Inagaki illustrates their stratagems in great detail through dialogue, animated maps showing armies’ movements and, of course, actual battle sequences that are in fact shown quite sparingly. However, when they are shown, Inagaki pulls out all the stops in terms of sheer scale, utilizing what must be hundreds of men and horses marching in formation, gathered on the battlefield and locked in combat. With their colorful costumes, weapons and, yes, several banners billowing in the wind, they provide an impressive spectacle that once more reminds the viewer of the shortcomings of CGI technology when compared to the real thing.

Mifune’s Yamamoto is constantly at the forefront of "Samurai Banners." After his induction into Takeda’s court, he comfortably settles into his position as an official samurai commander. His services to Takeda are fuelled by his overwhelming ambition to continually wage war and expand territory until the entire land is a unified, peaceful realm. Nearly everything about his nature is revealed when, once asked what his chief desire is, he replies, "To seize castles and land, then seize more castles and land." The stuck-up, bossy Princess Yu is the only other force in his life that attracts as much attention from him, though his longing for her is revealed in far more subtle ways. For example, in the moment when Takeda voices his desire to claim her as his concubine, and later on when Yamamoto gives up his protection of her and her child to Itagaki, his frustration and jealousy from not being able to be with her is clearly communicated through his body language alone. Yet even above her and the young lord, he places his focus mainly upon his steady, destructive march to the sea.

"Samurai Banners" is inarguably a quite well-made film and a solid entry in the assortment of quality samurai films from the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet the extensive portrayal of military conquest and protocol, while admirable and interesting, can often be overwhelming. Additionally, the film runs for an overlong 166 minutes, and likely would have benefited from some trimming in the editing room. Regardless, it delivers everything you would expect from a big-budget, Inagaki-directed, Mifune-starring visit to the ornate yet brutal world of feudal Japan.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

1 comment:

designer wedding dresses said...

A great presentation. Very open and enlightening.You have attractively presented your concept in this webpage blog post.
Marvelous length to be born. Amber’s tea length wedding dresses collection configures the theory of woman’s golden proportion by revealing an unexpected power of wavy skirts.Home Wedding Dresses Vintage Wedding Dresses . Woman’s beauty grows with the passing years, so does the vintage wedding dresses. Slipping into a piece of vintage clothing bestow the magic of provenance upon your original attractiveness. Our vintage wedding dresses collectibles capture this very essence of historical statement by flashing back to the pristine demeanor while infusing some modern interpretation. Then and there, your cherished memory flows out with the singing of Yesterday Once More.?