Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion (1967)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part V of V

Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion opens with this following statement:

“During the powerful Tokugawa regime in Edo (present-day Tokyo), there were 264 lords or daimyo. These feudal lords ruled their clan and the people under them. This story took place in one of these clans in 1725.”

The film deals with only one lord though despite it needing to mention the hundreds that existed at the time. Intentionally, we only see this lord twice in the entire movie, once in a flashback, and briefly in a conversation scene. Yet, he is the one causing the driving conflict, the representative mayhem of the story at hand.

But, that’s what makes giving this lord minimal time so crucial: it’s to show the obliviousness of leaders during this era, their obliviousness to what they force onto others. Samurai Rebellion deals in two key inciting incidents: the first where the lord commands one of his samurai’s eldest son to marry his ex-wife, the second where the lord, after the death of his own eldest son, commands this samurai’s eldest son to give back his ex-wife for remarriage.

Admittedly, this troubles the family who have just come to love this ex-wife of the lord, and of a taboo act, they decide to rebel against the sole leader causing this turmoil with their lives at stake, challenging the logistics behind tyranny. This ostracizes the rest of the family who don’t agree with the father, son, and son’s wife’s insistence to fight back. Blood is therefore bound to be shed, killing many innocent soldiers in the process.

Samurai Rebellion showcases a lord managing to pin family against family, friends against friends, and samurais against fellow samurais with but his words; he is causing the avoidable out of simple greed. The film hides him in the shadows, despite his existence being the most important message of all. The “264 lords” memo at the beginning, begins to make sense, as the authority of these characters must’ve generated so many tragic conclusions for those who dared to question a one man dictatorship. Worst part is, the film further insists, that due to the amount of times these sort of affairs must’ve happened and the fact that cunning lords could simply execute traitors, thousands of these uprising stories must’ve been lost in the process, forever — the powerful yet weak-minded are never secure enough to admit mistakes in the public eye, to admit that they had lost the loyalty of a citizen, so this is the sacrifice that is made out of government insecurities. It seems as if the unheard souls who died to this corruption can only be represented as a collective, narrowed down together in Kobayashi’s partially fictional tale we witness here.

Anyways, to conclude this director’s marathon off, I have one last thing to add: Kobayashi > Kurosawa. Yeah, I can’t believe THAT actually f**king happened. Not in a million years would I’ve expected myself to have this take! How could anyone predict that the samurai action king himself would be topped by a PACIFIST? 

Verdict: A-

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked)

“Samurai Rebellion” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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