Shogun's Samurai - Yagyu Clan Conspiracy (Fukasaku Kinji 1978)


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The Shogun's Samurai : Yagyu Clan Conspiracy
[Yagyû Ichizoku no Inbô]

柳生一族の陰謀

Genre: Quasi-historical Samurai Action/Thriller [Early Tokugawa Era]

review in one breath

This intriguing history-based fiction explores the rivalry between the two sons of Tokugawa Hidetada over the succession to the Shogunate following the sudden death of their father. Following the rules of aristocratic propriety, the brothers must resort to strategically undermining one another rather than open warfare. And here the loyalty of the Yagyu family of swordmasters proves critical, eventually tipping the balance of the outcome.


intro

This is by FAR the best and most plausible depiction of the Yagyu legend I have ever seen. (and for my qualifications, please see below.) The setting and characters of this narrative are wholly accurate in terms of Japanese history and though fictitious, director Fukasaku cleverly opens an avenue for true conspiratorial believability.

Here is a little REAL history:

Tokugawa Hidetara [徳川 秀忠] was the second Tokugawan shogunate and ruled Japan via de facto power from 1605 until 1623. He had two sons, the elder (Tokugawa) Iemitsu (1604 - 1651) and the younger Tadanaga (1606 - 1633). History records that their mother favored (for unknown reasons) the younger Tadanaga as the successor to the Shogunate. History also records that the elder Iemitsu obtained the office and that Tadanaga, at the age of 27, (for vague reason) was commanded by his brother (then Shogunate) Iemitsu to commit seppuku.

History also records that the swordmaster extraordinaire, Yagyu Munenori (aka Yagyu Tajima due to his ownership of the Tajima province) was in fact the primary swordsmanship instructor to Hidetara's eldest son, Iemitsu. Yagyu Tajima founded the Yagyū Shinkage (Yagyu New Shadow) school of swordsmanship -- to this day Japan's greatest and most famous.

According to historical documents, by 1631 Tajima's eldest son (Yagyu) Jubei had demonstrated himself to be the best swordsman of the Yagyu clan. The mystery of his legend revolves around the fact that in 1631 he was suddenly (for unknown reasons) dismissed from the Shogun's service. Nothing is recorded of Jubei until his sudden reappearance before the Shogun 12 years later in a demonstration of his (newly) learned sword skills after which the Shogun immediately re-employed his services.

Yagyu Jubei died 19 years later under mysterious circumstances.

This film retains all this historical accuracy yet explores the several "unknowns" mentioned above. Through rather compelling and realistic drama, Fukasaku explores:
  • the dynamic and rivalry between the two brothers whereby the favored son in the end is NOT chosen for succession.

  • the possible reasons, including treason, behind the younger Tadanaga's being forced to commit suicide at the command of his elder brother the Shogun.

  • why Jubei was suddenly dismissed from the service of the Shogun and the presence and company of this father Yagyu Tajima.

What this film suggests in these regards makes for a very entertaining and intriguing tale of strategy and covert battles.

Director Fukasaku Kinji is indeed a big name and by 1978 (the year of this film) he was able to pull in the absolutely best cast possible. And I mean an amazing collection of talent. (Sonny Chiba is cast in his perennial Jubei role, surrounded by strong performances by Mifune Toshiro, Nakamura Kinosuke, and about a dozen more top names.)

The scenery, sets and costumes here are historically impeccable and at 130 minutes this easily constitutes an "epic". And the history-based narrative, even for Western audiences unfamiliar with the background, will prove both engaging and unpredictable. VERY unpredictable.

story

Following the sudden death of the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, investigations soon suggest poisoning. Loyal factions of the two possible successors to the shogunate are soon accusing each other and a highly strategic and covert effort soon deployed by both sides.

Hidetada's eldest son Iemitsu soon learns from his swordsmaster Yagyu Tajima that those loyal to Iemitsu are responsible for the shogunate's death after learning Hidetara has decided to name the younger Tadanaga as successor.

The remaining narrative involves Iemitsu's willingness to join the conspiracy of his father's killers and the stealth and brutal ways he caries out the remainder of Yagyu Tajima's conspiracy.

But do not think by this description you have grasped the end of this tale of political back-stabbing.

verdict

As I said earlier, this is by far the best Yagyu-based film I have seen. For those new to "Yagyu Jubei" film, believe me when I say there are PLENTY! Here's the list I (personally) have reviewed (thus far):

Viewers of the above films will learn a great deal about 16th century VIRGIN NIPPLES, but absolutely zero about historical accuracies. And thus this is where this film truly excels.

I wholly recommend this film to anyone interested in (a) realistic (actual) samurai/ninja strategic deployment, (b) the strategic rise of the Tokugawan shogunate, and (c) the Yagyu (Tajima/Jubei) legend.

This film available on Region 1 DVD via major US venues.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available via mainstream US venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Highly entertaining conspiracy theory invoking purely historical characters played by top-notch talent. Depicts the bloody cruelty of partisan warfare and the outcome of treason. Everyone remains kimono-clad. BY FAR THE BEST Yagyu film I have seen.

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