Chris & Marcey’s March Movie Exchange: Week 2 – Goyokin (1969)

Movie Exchange

What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Chris’ criteria for Marcey: Samurai Films
Why Chris Chose This Film For Marcey: Goyokin is one of the great samurai films that often gets over looked by mainstream audiences in favor of those by Kurosawa. I first saw Goyokin back when I was about four or five and it captivated my young mind, it was also one of the first samurai films that I had ever seen and remains one of my favorite films. The story may seem like a simple revenge drama, but it is far more that that, it is a moral tale that also reflects the ending of an era in Japanese history, that of the Samurai. The film feels like you’re watching a western rather than a samurai film as it has a very similar look to it, in both cinematography and characterization as many gritty westerns such as Django. The film is gritty, edgy and also a very beautiful looking film with many iconic images including the climatic duel in the snow.


Marcey’s Review
“It’s a funeral for us samurai’s” This line in the film actually sums up a lot, Goyokin is a film that takes place in 1830’s Japan and the samurai would soon change and become modernised. An end of a long era so to speak, and that is what I believe this film does represent in a lot of ways. It is a fantastic samurai film, and a fantastic film in general, it does show a different side to the samurai and it isn’t a typical samurai film either.

The film begins with a narration, telling us a little about the shogun and their gold. It also tells us about a clan Sabai, and as things open it looks as though we are seeing a wedding procession. But soon we realise what is happening and the first 10 or so minutes feel like a horror film. A woman returns to her village to find it destroyed and no one is left, she is horrified by it. We then fast forward three years later and a meet a man Magobei (Tatsuya Nakadai) who gets attacked by samurai, we find out they were sent to kill him. But why would someone want him dead?

Through flashback we go back to those three years and see what happened to the village. Tatewaki (Tetsurô Tanba) the leader of the Sabai clan works out about the gold shipment of the shogun and he destroys a fishing village to get the gold. Because the clan is poor and they need the money Tatewaki isn’t being fuelled by greed but rather the need to keep the clan alive. Magobei disagrees with the killing of the innocent and the stealing of the gold, and leaves the clan. Tatewaki plans to heist gold again and destroy another village, Magobei realises this is why he was a target and goes on a quest to stop another massacre.

This is a bit of a revenge story and even a little bit of a heist film, the film has the look and feel of a Western, you can feel the influences there. But this really is a film in a league of its own, it differs from a lot of other samurai films and it brings forth a lot of themes such as honour. The Sabai clan feels like they have lost their honour, and this is because of the poverty and how the shogun have treated them. It feels as though Hideo Gosha (director and co-writer) wanted to show how the shogun could turn the honourable to do despicable things due to not having much to live on. This is what makes Tatewaki an interesting character, you can’t really call him the villain because he is doing what he feels he has to. The fishing villages and people are just collateral damage so the clan can continue to survive.


Magobei however is completely is the right, he wants to keep some sense of honour and he feels guilt for the massacre of the villagers. Upon learning it will happen again, he knows he has to stop it. What makes the relationship between Magobei and Tatewaki so interesting is that they are brother-in-laws, with Magobei married to Tatewaki’s sister. There is a lot going on in the film, but it is quite easy to follow. We understand both sides but know one is not the right even though he believes he is. Magobei is a well developed character, he develops all through the film, he is a man of little words, but when he speaks it matters. Tatewaki isn’t as developed but there is certainly enough to get a grasp of who he is.

Goyokin is a stunning film to look at, this was the first Japanese film that was in Panavision. It is an epic experience, the visuals and the clever use of colour against the mostly white backdrop of snow is fantastic. As is the use of music and the amazing piece that plays during the epic final duel. It looks and sounds amazing, it really brings the viewer in and these elements alone had me glued. But then there is the story, simple on the surface but having so much more to offer on the inside. The characters especially Magobei are intriguing and he especially is one that caught my attention right away. As Magobei, Tatsuya Nakadai gives a phenomenal performance, he doesn’t have a dull moment and without saying much he delivers a lot with his eyes and his movements. For me he was the star of the piece.

One can not talk about this film without mentioning the fantastic action, it is violent but it doesn’t relish in it. It does show blood, but only when necessary, it isn’t afraid to show these things but at the same time it isn’t over doing it. The sword fighting is amazing to watch, especially the final duel, which had my eyes glued and it was quite suspenseful. There are sequences that take place with a raging fire as the backdrop and it is handled extremely well. The film is very well lit, the night scenes are clear and I was quite impressed with that.

Goyokin is the kind of film that is the total package, a great story, great performances, amazing to look at and music that will stick with you. Absolutely thrilled I was given this film to watch, what an achievement.



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