(1965) dir. Kihachi Okamoto
After a friend turned me on to Samurai films earlier this year, and specifically to Kihachi Okamoto, whose The Sword of Doom (1966) and Kill! (1969), started out my film-watching year, I turned to yet another of his works in the genre, his 1965 film Samurai Assassin.
It too features amazing cinematography, a fascinating of foreground and background juxtapositions, occasionally with shocking close-ups or sudden foreground movement, like the opening of a parasol. The film ends in a black-and-white bloodbath in the snow, which the whole screen is obscurred by the heavy fall of snowflakes. The Sword of Doom in many ways is my favorite of the three films, in which these camera techniques and visual play strike their greatest effect, but Samurai Assassin is a very good film and displays the characteristics that appealed in the other two.
Toshiro Mifune is the almost noir-ish antihero, son of a concubine and an unamed father of noble birth, his struggle to become a true samurai is hampered not only by an unrequited love of a noble lady but also by the tenuousness of the samurai class in a changing 1860 Japanese culture. His battle for reknown becomes his personal undoing and ultimate dissolution of the world that he so strongly desires.
Okamoto, along with structuring his visual compositions in foreground and background objectivity, uses the faces of Mifune and Yûnosuke Itô, the crumple-faced villain who manipulates Mifune, but constantly has a complex, dogged strangeness to his visage that draws the camera and the eye so intensely.