MMC!‘s proposed collection of Tai Katô films continues with another exceptionally titled movie – Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (1964). Adapted by Katô and Noribumi Suzuki from Gohei Kamiya’s novel, Shafu yukyoden – kenka tatsu (Fighting Tatsu‘s Japanese title) is a lighter take on the yakuza genre, injecting a romantic comedy into its story of mob politics and gang warfare. The film still manages its share of bloodshed, untimely deaths, and wild, riotous street fights to satisfy strict genre fans.
The movie opens in 1898 with scruffy and truculent rickshaw driver Tatsu (Ryôhei Uchida) arriving from Edo to Osaka ready to start his career with the town’s only rubber-wheeled carriage. Before even leaving the Victorian-designed train station, Tatsu bumps into a high-ranking official and gets into a brawl with him, his assistant, and his bodyguard. When told to mind his place and defer to the official, Tatsu proclaims that they live in a new era where all are “born equally now.” By these first few minutes, the film’s main character is immediately and perfectly defined – headstrong, independent, egalitarian, pugnacious – and no question is left as to how Fighting Tatsu will develop its dramatic conflicts.
Tai 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.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf II: Hellcut.
Isao 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.
- New, restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio commentary by Japanese-cinema historian Chris D.
- 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