Cruel Story at the End of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddTai Kato’s Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari goes by multiple translated titles such as The Executioners and various permutations on Brutal/Cruel Story/Tale of the Shogunate’s Downfall/at the End of the Tokugawa Era/Shogunate. In this bundle of terms and referents are numerous evocations – institutionalized murder, mercilessness, the degradation that typifies a historical era’s demise, a retrospective view and an exemplum account. Made by Toei as a no frills genre picture, Tai Kato offers a daringly grim view of Japanese militarism and the radical lengths such top-down pressures drive individuals toward.

Hashizo Okawa, a handsomely baby-faced actor departing from more commercially agreeable fare, plays Enami, a naïve and unskilled samurai looking to join the Shinsengumi. During the mid- to late-1860s, the Shinsengumi acted as a special militarized police force devoted to protecting the Shogunate and, though valourized in some dramatic treatments as heroes, they are regarded by many historians as vicious death squads. Kato’s film prefers the historical view of the Shinsengumi, first introducing them as blood-drenched foot soldiers stoically overseeing the aftermath of some late-night operation on an urban street. Enami’s story commences with a savage try-out held for samurai aspiring to join the group, forced to display their swordsmanship against one another with wooden swords rather than bamboo ones, thereby inflicting grave injuries on each other. The savagery of these sword-fights and the shock of the injuries sustained leave many of the hopefuls in utter panic and Enami vomiting under a nearby tree.

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Samurai Wolf (Hideo Gosha, 1966) and Samurai Wolf II: Hellcut (Hideo Gosha, 1967)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf II: Hellcut.

criterion logoIsao Natsuyagi is Kiba, the Samurai Wolf, an affable, beguiling swordsman willing to lend a hand and smile.  In Samurai Wolf, Kiba uses his quick-draw style help defend a small town messenger service against a plot to ruin it by stealing a 30,000 ryo delivery, while the sequel sees the young wanderer embroiled in the vengeful plans of a prisoner who reminds him of his long-dead father.  Balancing chambara conventions with Spaghetti Western style, Hideo Gosha creates a pair of exhilarating films consistent with his dark, cynical portrayals of corruption and violence, while offering an unexpected brightness in the honest and honorable Kiba.  Full of secret plans, hidden grudges, double-dealing, and lethal aggression, Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf II: Hellcut are entertaining proof that good things come in small packages.

Disc Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Audio commentary by Japanese-cinema historian Chris D.
  • Trailers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by film critic Bilge Ebiri, Japanese-film and -culture critic Patrick Macias, and graphic novelist J. P. Kalonji

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