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Monday, March 15, 2010

Shura (1971) review


Imafuku Masao (Gengobe Satsuma/Soemon Funakura), Kara Juro (Sangoro), Yasuko Sanjo (Koman)

Directed by Matsumoto Toshio

The sole shot of color before the darkness falls...

"Even if there is sunlight...this maggot can abide only in deepest darkness!"

Gengobe gives up the money given to him by poor farmers to a woman who uses him for other means

Having wasted his money on prostitutes, Soemon Funakura is cast out as an Asano Clan retainer, a group of noble samurai bound to a vendetta against the Shogunate. Living in shame, he changes his name to Gengobe Satsuma. His servant, Hachiemon gathers together the 100 ryo needed for Gengobe to be accepted back into his clan to take his place among the 47 Ronin. Koman, the geisha which he loves, is about to be sold to another man. The debt required to keep her in Gengobe's arms is 100 ryo. An escalating series of treachery, greed and lies brings about the downfall and gruesome death of a number of individuals.

This jidai geki (period drama) horror story is an alternate and fascinating take on the fabled true tale of the 47 Ronin, a story that has been brought to Japanese screens on a number of occasions. For this film, the 47 retainers and their leader, Oboshi Yuranosuke (Oishi Kuranosuke) are only mentioned throughout. We never see them. Through the films title and the events depicted, this film purports that Gengobe was to have been the 48th Ronin to avenge the ritualized suicide of their leader, Asano Takumi.

Matsumoto's movie takes some of the details surrounding that famous event and weaves them to suit the ominously gloomy atmosphere. SHURA (1971) is simply one of the most hypnotic and downbeat movies ever made. A tale of irony, sacrifice and extreme tragedy, it's shot in a unique style. The opening sequence of the sun going down is the only shot of the film in color. The remainder of the films 135 minutes is in an increasingly stark, grimly opaque and terrifying black and white.

Koman feigns committing suicide in an effort to prove her "intentions" to Gengobe

A number of the scenes in the movie possess a dream like quality in that we see an outcome, only to realize that it is all in the characters mind. Such sequences all add to the veritable madness Gengobe succumbs to over the course of the film. It's quite tragic what happens to him. Just when he is ready to atone for his mistakes, he allows a woman to cloud his hopes for reconciliation with his clan. It is soon discovered that he has been deceived by what he held most dear; his love for Koman, whom he wishes to make his wife. Ready to give up everything for this woman, his feelings betray him.

Gengobe learns that Koman is already married right after throwing his money away a second time

Immediately after handing over the 100 ryo to pay off Koman's debts, Sangoro admits that he cannot take her with him as she is already married! He then goes on to state that she is his wife! This whole act has been a ruse to clear her debts so the Sangoro would be finally accepted by his family as well as getting their infant son back. This crushes Gengobe. The 100 ryo was given to him by poor farmers and peasants who scrapped together what little they had so that he could rejoin the Asano.

Sangoro murders his own brother

No one in this film, even the innocent, obtain just treatment. The piling of one lie atop the other creates a world of rising sadism and ultimate tragedy. The characters of the geisha, Koman and her husband, Sangoro, are despicable and use Gengobe for their own good. Matsumoto also fills his picture with a lot of irony. Making his father believe he has suffered to obtain the large sum to gain his respect, the money is to be used to clear the irresponsible debts accrued by his fathers master, Soemon Funakura. What Sangoro doesn't know is that Soemon is actually the Asano name of Gengobe Satsuma.

Already insane, Gengobe sees the spirits of those he has killed coming back from the grave to haunt him

Gorily murdering five people behind the plot to relieve him of his money, the now crazed samurai goes in search of the two main conspirators, Koman and her husband. Now a wanted man, Gengobe later finds them and in a fit of rage, commits a sickening act of violence that leaves no restitution for anyone.

The incredibly brutal and uncompromising finale of SHURA

The death scenes shown here are poetically shot, but attention to ghastly detail is lovingly paid by the macabre cinematography. These scenes are very bloody, too. Limbs and heads are severed and the camera lingers on victims in their death throes. Often these bits play without sound and in slow motion which adds to the overall eerieness. The tone becomes more grim as the film heads towards its hopelessly bleak finale.

Gengobe has conversation with a decapitated head

The aforementioned cinematography is one of the movies many strong points and aids immeasurably in the horror aspects of this production. People's faces are often accentuated by shadows and the use of darkness with just enough illumination to highlight the facial features of those onscreen. Banned in the UK for its depressing tone and shocking violence, SHURA (1971) is a terribly underrated movie that seemingly never gets discussed much. The film is a sad, depressing tale that is a must see for horror enthusiasts and those with an appreciation for Japanese cinema.


elgartcalago said...

Japanese horror flick is really good!

venoms5 said...

I agree, elgartcalago. I kind of like these older ones better than the newer ones mainly for the atmosphere.

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