Kill! follows two ronin who are caught up in the confounding intrigue of a local clan. Genta (Nakadai) a former samurai and yakuza member looks on as a group of seven retainers kill their master under orders from Ayuzawa (Koyama) the clan's leader. They are subsequently betrayed and cornered in a mountainside hobble. On the other side is Hanji (Takahashi), a farmer and relative novice who hopes to get into the clan's good graces and is brought along to hunt down the seven assassins. While Genta and Hanji are on opposite sides of the clan's convoluted back-and-forth, they form a bond and find themselves playing one side against the other. Kill! is a sneaky, Manzai inspired kick in the pants to samurai adventure tales which has dominated the Western notion of Japanese cinema for half a century. Even if you're brand new to Chanbara, you're at least familiar with the popular titles of Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961) and the Zatoichi series (1962-1989). Their pensive, wistful examinations of the Bushido Code are often punctuated by flairs of Western inspired violence that audiences all over the world ate up like gobs of rolled sushi. And just like in America, Italy, France, Mexico et al., Japan contended with a vibrant counterculture movement that rapturously embraced maverick artists and film directors. Kill!, while not as immediately known as Rashomon (1950), was for all intents and purposes, the counterculture's happy warrior. Throughout the film are a litter with characters, who on all sides vary from hypocritical to downright disgusting. Ironically, other than the principle rogues, the only other redeemable characters are Oikawa (Kubo) the leader of the encumbered seven and Jurota (Kishida) the lead guard; two characters duty bound to kill one another. Yet even though they are the only characters to hold to the Bushido Code while no one's looking, they are also just smart enough to realize they're trapped by the twisted machinations of Ayuzawa and their own stupid pride. Director Kihachi Okamoto along with Seijun Suzuki and Kon Ichikawa was among the nation's most radical insurgents and found hypocrisy in every system ancient and contemporary. Over a career that spanned six decades, the WWII veteran made over forty films many of which dealt with the absurdities of war. He intermingled high-action with low- brow comedy, employing a lyrical style that contemporaries likened to over-the-top musical only without the music. While previous works like Samurai Assassin (1965) and The Sword of Doom (1966) saw Okamoto on his best behavior, by 1968 the gloves came off. Kill! openly and repeatedly mocks the lithe practices of the samurai, at one point using a solstice celebration to humorously distract from an ambush. The conscience of his film (and audience POV) is esteemed Japanese legend Tatsuya Nakadai who is certainly no stranger to tearing down legends and picking at newly made scabs. While contemporary Toshiro Mifune made over thirty movies building up and championing the honorific exploits of the samurai, Nakadai's cool, collected work in Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri (1962) single- handedly obliterated all the legends. While Kill! is comparatively light, employing a kick'em-while-they're-down mentality, its arguably much more fun to watch than Harakiri. Combining exciting swordplay, crackling dialogue, absurd humor and sly references and take-downs of other films (including as especially Kurosawa's Sanjuro (1962)), Kill! is a brilliant and fun little film. It offers interesting and complex characters and a story that confounds and confuses though in the same way 1968 confounded and confused the world. Before declaring 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), If.... (1968) and/or Night of the Living Dead (1968) the most radical film/s of the sixties, check out Kill! and tell me you're not at least delighted.
Action / Comedy
Action / Comedy
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Two ronin - an ex-samurai and an ex-farmer - get caught up in a local official's complex game of murder and betrayal.
April 9, 2020