OSHI SAMURAI KIICHI HOGAN (THE MUTE SAMURAI)
Episode 4: A BRIDGE TO THE DARK WORLD ***
Tomisaburo Wakayama (Kiichi Hogan), Ebara Shinjiro (Odagiri Jokichi/Muira Shinjiro), Mori Kikue (Lady Boss), Eiji Go (Senpachi)
Directed by Kimiyoshi Masuda
Kiichi Hogan wanders into a new town and takes down a wanted poster for Muira Shinjiro. While having a drink, a woman named Yuki informs the bounty hunter that Shinjiro killed her brother and she wants revenge. Allegedly hiding out in the town of Sakai -- a small island community accessible via a small bridge. Populated by ruffians and fugitives lorded over by an elderly woman, Hogan searches for his quarry; but for reasons associated with finding Gonzales as opposed to collecting a bounty. Upon discovering Shinjiro's identity, Hogan learns of a conspiracy tying the man to the death of Yuki's brother and the Shimazu Clan.
Yasuda returns for his second directorial assignment of this series, and it has a bit more going on than his first go round. So far, 'A Bridge to the Dark World' is the most intricately plotted episode up to this point. There are a few different strands bandied about in the script, and the only one of great importance is the furthering of Wakayama's character. A bit more emotion shines through; and even a great deal more erupts in the next episode. However, it starts to become apparent that Hogan cares more about getting information on Gonzales than the actual bounties for those connected to him in some way.
Another strand covered here is one that has been consistent since episode one -- the permeation of criminality among the poor and the meek. There seems to always be at least one person who is forced, or falls into crime simply out of the need to survive. Drug smuggling is the constant, as is a sense of anti-western sentiment in this series. That applies here, as does an exploration of "mistaken identity". The thin line between the good guys and the bad guys remains a noticeable trend in THE MUTE SAMURAI.
The Honor Among Thieves mantra embraced by the Yakuza is prevalent here as well; and in one surprise moment, it supersedes familial ties when one of the thugs betrays his own.
This entry has little action till the end, but it's quite a good finale capped off with a duel between Hogan and the real villain of the piece. Wakayama is very powerful here. At the beginning, he kills a man with a single kick; later slings one poor sap clear across a room; and puts his knife throwing skills to good use. The finale against a gang of samurai who lay siege to a shed where the main protagonists are trapped is a highlight.
Eiji Go (see above) has a supporting role as one of the island thugs. He keeps the brutality toned down, though; in comparison to his works for Toei. Eiji Go played some true scumbags, and had the look for it. He features in movies like ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS (1974), and films with Sonny Chiba such as fan favorite THE EXECUTIONER (1974) and its sequel from the same year just to name a few.
The camera placement and some photographic shots elevate moments in the show, yet again. This fourth episode begins -- as the others before it did -- with Kiichi either hunting, or being hunted by enemies. The opening for this one once more has an apocalyptic feel. Presumably this was the intention of both Katsu and (by this time, producer) Wakayama to get that sort of atmosphere across considering the gloomy nature of their series.
THE MUTE SAMURAI really picks up some serious steam in the next episode that will shock some, and possibly be a deal breaker for a few viewers for its violence alone. This stark, downbeat series is just starting to find its footing, and it only gets better from here.
You can purchase volume 2 HERE. It contains episodes three and four.
To be continued in episode 5: THE FATEFUL ENCOUNTER!!!