“Standing By and Turning a Blind Eye to Evil is akin to committing the Sin Itself..”
GOYOKIN (1969) is the second film by Hideo Gosha, the director also responsible for the Criterion released “Sword of the Beast” and “Three Outlaw Samurai“. I’m rather surprised as to why Criterion hasn’t picked this film up, but nonetheless, Media Blasters did manage to release this film in re-mastered form. Toshiro Mifune was supposedly picked to play the character of Samon, but dropped out at the last minute due to sickness. “Goyokin”, while a lesser known film compared to “Hara-Kiri” and “Sword of Doom” is an excellent chambara film which also stars Tatsuya Nakadai as the main character. It is still an awesome tale of conflicting emotions about loyalty or the interpretations of, the guilt and atonement of the past’s sins and feudal political greed.
The film is a tale of a haunted samurai named Magobei Wakizaka (Tatsuya Nakadai), who returns home to the site of the past massacre to seek atonement and redemption for his soul. The clan he abandoned intends to instigate another heartless massacre akin to an earlier reign of terror that caused Magobei to resign his position and leave the clan. The original massacre has become a legend that is attributed to an evil spirit. Protecting the last survivor of the massacre, a beautiful woman named Oriha (Ruriko Asaoka), Magobei absorbs a phenomenal amount of punishment as a way of atoning for the sins of his clan.
Gosha’s film is a awesome spectacle of blood and swordplay that uses the Tohoku Locales as a backdrop of the film. The films exudes an atmospheric feeling as the crushing waters impact against the shoreline, the white snow stained with blood, with black crows looking to feed on the carcasses of the dead. The film looks very authentic and accurate to its timeline. The film’s main premise is the blind loyalty to one’s clan, and the hope for redemption by atoning for an indifference to an injustice. Goyokin has minor similarities in regards to style and feel to the chambara classics by Kobayashi, and far superior to the works of Suzuki, because his films have better characterizations and better content with superior performers.
“GOYOKIN” has definitely hit a bull’s-eye in casting Tatsuya Nakadai as the lead character. The film revolves around a tortured soul that is haunted by his past, and Nakadai is impressive as Magobei. His gestures, action and mannerisms have that intense feel that emphasizes a man looking inward to the depths of his own soul. It is also a fantastic move for director Gosha to cast Yoko Tsukasa as Shino, this actress has impressed me with her performance in “Samurai Rebellion” and although she did have limited screen time, she nonetheless grabs the audience as Magobei’s wife. It was quite ironic as a retainer named Kunai ordered Magobei assassinated, because Kunai is lusting after his wife; this event is what triggered Magobei’s resolve to atone for his mistake. Kinnosuke Nakamura plays a role originally intended for Toshiro Mifune, and the man does add a certain charisma to the film’s proceedings.
The film also has a satisfying share of swordfights that will attract action lovers. The swordplay displayed are reminiscent of the “Shogun Assassin” films that are nicely choreographed and staged with a realistic feel. The film also has a climactic duel between Magobei and Tatewaki (Tetsuro Tamba), his main nemesis, with a maneuver that rivals the “quick draw” in Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro” for sheer intensity that makes you say “that’s cool”. Blood splattered onto white snow adds a lot of visceral punch.
GOYOKIN is a film very worthy of anyone’s time and while it may be inferior to the chambara films of Kurosawa and Kobayashi, the film is very satisfying in its own right. The film’s meticulous execution in historical accuracy gives the film a very “real” feel that gives its audience an “authentic” experience. The film is very clever in staging its action sequences that will remind us the subtleties of the execution of swordplay, much like an Akira Kurosawa film would. The exciting execution of the film enhances the story and the characters enhance its content. Hideo Gosha “Goyokin” is a true part of great Japanese classics.
Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]
Note: The film is great but the subtitles in this dvd needs to be translated better. The translations carry the occasional American “slang” that annoyed me at times. Example: “Matte” in Japanese means “wait” but was translated to “hang on”. “Angry” and “understand” has been translated to “pi**ed off” and “got it’ respectively. "Kane no tamenara nanndemo suru" ("I'll do anything for gold") is translated to "I'll do anything for a buck." There is no “buck” during this period.
The mistranslations doesn’t really ruin the dialogue but it does serve occasional annoyances.