Once again, the samurai rises on reel

Japanese film fest

It’s time for fans of Samurai films in the city to rejoice.

The Japan Foundation is presenting a bouquet of some of the most well-crafted Samurai films of all times aptly titled ‘The Sword and the Love.’ In the offing are timeless gems like Daisatsujin (The Great Killing), The Fort of Death, Cruel Story at the end of the Tokugawa, Love for a Mother and many more. The screenings are on at Japan Foundation’s Lajpat Nagar facility from 4-8 pm every day till March 14.

Samurai cinema, which includes both chanbara (action-oriented sword-fight films) and period films called jidaigeki, focuses on the nationally venerated samurai warriors of Japan from 12th to 16th century. These samurais, who unquestioningly served the feudal class and waged wars for them, gave rise to many interesting legends. Together, they shaped the history, philosophy and culture of Japan for over half a millennium.

The first Samurai film was made around 1920 adapted from a Samurai theatrical, several of which were popular at that time. They continued to be made well into the 1920s and 30s and became a rage in Japan. They also suffered greatly during both the world wars. The two militaristic Japanese Governments considered them a useless form of entertainment while the American occupiers were scared that they could inspire feudal tendencies. 

Samurai films, though, document a lost era in Japan’s timeline as well as a generational shift in the values of the nation. Samurai films made before war focused on the warrior’s loyalty to his lord and his clan. His family was unimportant. Those made post-war started looking at the Samurai world-view critically. Are those in positions of authority always right? Did the faithful samurais end up being used? Were their own opinions disposable? 

The 1964 film Daisatsujin which is being screened at the festival, for example, deals with an overtaxing and manoeuvring clan leader Sakai who is overthrown by poor peasants and a group of samurais. The Fort of Death (1969), again directed by Kudo Eiichi, follows a similar battle and the gore and human tragedy thereafter. Cruel Story at the end of the Tokugawa (1964, Kato Tai) focuses on rivalries between groups of samurais.

Love for a Mother (1962, Kato Tai) has a samurai wandering from town to town in search of his long-lost mother. Tokijiro of Kutsukake (1966, Kato Tai) deals with the world of gang-wars and unnecessary blood-letting. In Samurai Bride Hunter (1957, Sadatsugu Matsuda), as the name indicates, a samurai sets off on a journey to find himself a bride.

Misako Futsuki Koide, director of Arts & Cultural Exchange, The Japan Foundation, says, “There has always been a popular demand from our patrons for Samurai films. Notwithstanding that these films represent a concluded era of time, Indian audience is as much thrilled to watch this genre of cinema as the Japanese community. It’s an honour for us to present ‘The Sword and the Love.’”

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