Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, October 30, 2020

25 Samurai Films Worth Watching

Who doesn't love Samurai movies? Who WHO??!!

Below is an exerpt from an article that lists 25 of the best Jidaigeki films, a sub-genre of samurai movies. If you enjoy great sword fights and beautiful cinema, take a look. The full article may be read here.

Jidaigeki is the incomparable genre of world film history that Japan has given the world. Samurai, geisha, Shogun, sword fights, zen culture, craftsmen and more are common themes in Jidaigeki films. Samurai film is the subgenre of Jidaigeki, which is why the two genres can’t be separated. However, there are so many great samurai films that one needs to make a separate list for those.

Here, movies regarding primarily samurai and sword fights are excluded. For example, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films like “Seven Samurai”, “Yojimbo”, and “Sanjuro”, and Masaki Kobayashi’s “Samurai Rebellion” and “Harakiri” aren’t included, where the sword fights of ronin and samurai are the main story. However, their other Jidaigeki films are included, which don’t have too much of a samurai and ronin element.

The main aim of this list isn’t to devaluate those great samurai films but to throw light on many great but shadowed, underrated and underpraised Jidaigeki films.

Jidaigeki films are stunningly beautiful, mainly because of the Japanese culture of the Edo period: chivalrous samurai, devoted wives, shogun, outcast ronins, immensely beautiful geishas, traditional customs and houses, sword fights, and zen culture are the main attractions. The themes of revenge, love, hate, devotion, infidelity, lust, fear, and faith are strong, and when they are based on folk tales or ghost stories or traditional stories, they are even more powerful.
Parables are the hardest things to achieve in any art. In that case, simple folk tales are hard to adapt to films. Even the stories in Jidaigeki films are often predictable but the beauty of them catches us from beginning to end and demand even multiple viewings. Here is the list of 25 greatest Jidaigeki film

1. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)

Masaki Kobayashi is a criminally underrated director of film history, which is a very sad thing. Generally, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa are renowned as the main leaders of Japanese cinema but Kobayashi is even greater than those in many cases.

For example, he is known to beautify films, to use the soundtrack extraordinarily, to depict weathers like snow, atmosphere, rain, and sunlight. He is one of the greatest directors of film history who is overshadowed by those Japanese leaders outside Japan. His masterpiece “Kwaidan” is even more shadowed by his own great films like “Harakiri” and “Samurai Rebellion”.

Generally, Jidaigeki horror films are stunningly beautiful, and “Kwaidan” is a great example. This film consists of four separate and unrelated stories based on famous folk tales of Japan. The first story, “The Black Hair”, is hailed by many cinephiles as the best of film but all four stories are equally beautiful, powerful and well crafted.

Almost all parts of film were shot in studio, which makes the film unnatural to some extent. Even that makes film aesthetically incomparable and that is the best thing about it.

Kobayashi doesn’t use a soundtrack as other directors do; he uses it delaying its time after 2 to 3 seconds after the actual event happened. That creates a unique feeling and curiosity to audiences and makes the film very different. That is a very rare, great and successful experiment that can rarely be found. “Kwaidan” is the one of the greatest and most beautiful films of all time.

2. The Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958)

Keisuke Kinoshita is another lesser-known director outside Japan who has made some great films, including “Twenty-Four Eyes”. Shot in stage like “Kwaidan”, “The Ballad of Narayama” is his masterpiece, which is immensely beautiful. It is hard to find such great and beautiful sceneries in other countries’ films. Almost the entire film was shot in stage all those places shot like hills, snow, villages, fields, ponds, and more, are beautifully and powerfully depicted.

Adapted from the same book of Shichiro Fukazawa, it depicts the practice of Obasute: abandoning one’s parent in the uninhabited hills, where they will die of starvation or attacking of wild animals when they turn old. Its beautiful cinematography, sad and surprising culture of Obasute, the old woman who is the main character, and the folk songs and soundtrack are the best part of this film.

Mother’s time of Obasute is coming and what makes her son and audiences surprised is that she hurries to go to the uninhabited, lonely hill. She knows she has to go and die there of starvation. Therefore, before she dies, she wants to celebrate her life so joyfully that she does a lot of things that makes her family and other neighbors happy.

Even if the story is quite predictable, the film creates an uncertainty within us about the ending and about what is going to happen. How will that old lady go and live on that lonely hill? Japanese New Wave director Shoehi Imamura has also made the same titled film from same book, which is more realistic, but this film is more aesthetic as well. Fans of “Kwaidan” will definitely love it.

3. Jigokuhen (Shiro Toyoda, 1969)

One of the most terrifying films ever made, Shiro Toyoda’s masterpiece “Jigokuhen” tells the story about a conflict between two people: a dictator and an immensely talented painter, played by great Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai has given one of the greatest performances of his life in this film. He is a Korean painter who comes to Japan and ended up working in the dictator’s palace. He has a beautiful daughter whom he controls excessively.

Even though he is great painter, he is egotistical just like that dictator; they hate each other because they are alike. Their personal conflict is the main theme of this beautiful, terrible, and terrific film. The story becomes fascinating when the dictator forcefully puts the painter’s daughter inside his palace to marry her. But how the film ends is totally out of the realm of imagination.
The dictator uses his weaponry power and the painter uses his own painting power. For the painter, his daughter is at stake but for the dictator, his state is at stake.

This film can also be considered the war between art and politics, or artist and dictator. Also, the theme of politics, love, hate, ego, lust, revenge etc. can also be found. Its haunting beauty of cinematography, unusual and unpredictable and powerful story, and great performance of Nakadai makes this film one of the greatest Jidaigeki horror films. It is underrated, overshadowed and not to be missed.

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