Wednesday, February 14, 2007


[NOTE: Some corrections have been made to the post per the comments beneath it. I wrongly identified the hero's wife as his sister and his brother in law as a lord instead of a retainer. Corrections were made.]Hideo Gosha might slip under the radar screen of great Japanese directors - he's not the most prolific director out there, but he has a couple of good samurai films under his belt, including this one. "Goyokin" means official gold. Towards the end of Tokugawa rule, the bakufu was mining gold and silver off an island, so the story says, to help fund the government. This gold was then shipped to Edo. That's the expositional narration that sets up the story. Here we have (again) the always adorable Ruriko Asaoka playing Oriha. She's fixing to get a very rude awakening. Her smile is the result of seeing a wedding procession passing along the beach. Only, it is not a real wedding procession. Upon returning to her home town, she realizes that it has been destroyed, abandoned, etc. This proves to be a life altering experience for Oriha - and not in a warm fuzzy Oprah way, either.Only ravens remain. And they don't provide a friendly atmosphere.Meet Magobei Wakizaka. He'll be the resident samurai badass assigned for the picture. He is guilt ridden for reasons that will become clear later.Okay, now is later: The folks in Oriha's village were slaughtered by their local retainer. The reason: the goyokin ship sank right off shore and the villagers retrieved the payload. The local needed the money to pay off the bakufu, so they took it and then slaughtered the villagers to cover their tracks.Magobei was under the local retainer (a brother in law) and was there and witnessed the horror. It changed his life, too. He left the clan in exile under the agreement that the retainer would never commit such an atrocity again. Guess what happens....The always adorable Ruriko Asaoka goes from being a good decent betrothed gal to being a hustler taking advantage of yakuza scum....Survival is difficult, but she's pretty tough when the shit hits the fan. Here, the yakuza scum discover she's been using loaded dice. Instead of panicking, she keeps her cool and tells them that she is connected to the Kamikakushi, a term loosely meaning "unexplained disappearance." It has a superstitious meaning in the film. To get the whole story, watch the picture. But essentially it means that she was there in the village that got slaughtered three years back. (Oh yeah, there was a time lapse from the opening scene to the present story)As luck would have it, Magobei Wakizaka overhears her talking and comes to the rescue...Allowing for her escape.They meet again in the next town. She figures he knows something about the massacre. But what? His troubled soul is reluctant to talk...But the audience can see his thoughts.The always adorable Ruriko just can't stay out of trouble. Here, she's getting the Will Lockhart treatment.Only to be saved, once again, by the resident badass.Oh yeah, there's another girl in the story. She's Magobei's wife and sister to the evil retainer. She's a little creepy - though I don't think that was the intention of the filmakers. His exile was hard on her. She has black teeth.During their unexpected visit, he tells here that he's on his way back home to prevent another Kamikakushi. She wants him to flee with her.Magobei is ambushed in this hut. The Japanese are not afraid to film rain.Magobei, along with Oriha and a few others I've failed to mention, plan to thwart the evil retainer's attempt to sink the goyokin boat, steal the gold and kill the villagers...Here's the evil retainer... And his men, who are preparing to implement the plan...But Magobei has plans of his own...Those plans include killing a bunch of guards....Meanwhile, Oriha does the important stuff. Here, she is attempting to free the villagers. Next, she will disrupt the fire signal that is pivotal to causing the goyokin ship to sink.
Magobei is still killing guards....A few things go wrong, as the expression on the adorable Oriha's face below indicates. But overall, they are successful in thwarting the plot.The next morning, however, leaves some unfinished business. Magobei must have a final duel with the evil retainer. But the temperature is such that his hands are too cold to hold his katana. No problem, his wife with the black teeth has a warm bossom he can touch to warm himself.
Closer to the duel, the evil retainer is also trying to keep his hands warm.Magobei has killing on his mind.The villagers are providing the sound track - beating on drums and celebrating the thwarting of the plot.The duel is over.
While the villagers celebrate, Magobei is a-fixin' to leave. Oriha locks stares with him. If he ain't a fool, he'll grab her hand.Because she is waiting....But he's a fool.And don't get too excited at this shot, because I think that is his wife with black teeth following him. I could be wrong, though. That part was a little confusing.


Alex said...

I hate to criticize, but you're leaving a good part of this film out.

The film is partially a meditation on the economic destruction of all ties between humans - the need for gold destroys everything. The "evil lord" (who, by the way, is actually NOT the daimyo at all but his chief advisor) is actually portrayed as someone initially noble driven to evil by the economic pressures put upon the clan. He's evil, certainly, but we see how he got that way. We see how we might get that way too in his shoes.

The need for gold makes all the other characters (except for Magobei) totally self-centered, entirely amoral creatures. In this, the "evil lord" is actually no more or less evil than the central government or even the citizenry (who are usually shown here as either ineffective graybeards or low-level criminals). We find that the central government is only concerned with the gold, and willingly sends murderers and killers of it's own on it's trail.

Far from being an elevation of samurai values over evil, in the closing scene Magobei concludes that the entire samurai culture is dead and effectively useless. Nothing can stop the arrival of a completely money centered world - one in which Magobei is a rusty remnant.

jeffrey said...

Good call, Alex. You're criticism is welcome. I didn't want to get too dark with analysis, as it tends to take away from the one-liners but you're right. "...the need for gold destroys everything." I would stress the "need" in your assessment. I didn't see it so much as a simple greed destroy's everything type of story. The irony that the local domain had to steal Tokugawa gold in order to pay the Tokugawa bakufu because of the harsh Tokugawa taxes levied on it was a fascinating and viscious cycle - and encompassed the very pith of the story. Talk about a no win situation!

And I appreciate your correction about the evil lord actually being the Chief Retainer. I was caught summarizing from memory. If I get a chance I'll fix the post.

barrym said...

One small detail: the "other girl" was referred to as Magobei's sister and wife to the chief retainer. Twas actually the other way around which explains the intimacy - normal after all. Nice set of pics!

Jeffrey Hill said...

I appreciate the correction, barrym. Switching the roles to their rightful place makes the story seem much less bizarre.