JPFmovies is excited to get back to quality Asian films. There is a reason Heaven and Earth was Japan’s number one film in 1990: it is one hell of a flick. Most Japanese films of this genre look at the battle of Sekigahara; for those of you that don’t know this was the bloodiest battle in Japan’s history and finally united the country. Heaven and Earth, however, centers around the battles of Kawanakajima which was series of 7 battles over 20 years between two equally matched rivals Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin that lasted until 1564.
Shingen and Kenshin could not have more contrasting leadership personalities and styles. Kenshin fought wars “to bring peace to his people” versus Shingen who wanted to expand his empire “to the seas.” Shingen (the more famous of the two) is often portrayed as some sort of liberator treating his people well but in truth, he was a cruel as many of the other warlords of the time-routinely massacring peasants and prisoners of war unlike Kenshin who took a higher road.
One of the main reasons Shingen wanted the lands occupied by Kenshin is because the were very fertile which was a precious commodity in Japan that does not have much agriculture.
Back to the film. Heaven and Earth also presents the audience with two interesting items. The first is a letter that survives to this day that Kenshin sends to his allies asking for men, equipment and other items necessary for war. The second are two very accurate formations from each side: Kenshin’s “Winding Wheel” vs. Shingen’s “Crane.” The film does a great job of recreating the relatively complex fighting formations. The winding wheel was an offensive maneuver allowing units that had become exhausted or depleted to be replaced with a fresh unit, thus enabling the attacker to maintain the force and momentum of the attack. A very carefully organized and complex maneuver, its use indicates that Kenshin’s troops must have practiced it to the point of perfection. Kenshin’s vanguard was commanded by his younger brother, Takeda Nobushige, and as Kenshin’s winding wheel fully engaged the Takeda front ranks, Nobushige was killed in the desperate close combat.
Kenshin’s leading units were mounted samurai, and as the “wheel” wound on, the pressure on Shingen’s force began to tell as unit after unit was driven back from its position. Shingen’s “crane” was an offensive formation and not designed for the defense, but the troops executing it were well disciplined and the formation was managing to hold its own. The momentum of the “wheel” brought Kenshin within reach of the Takeda headquarters where Shingen had been fervently trying to control his hard-pressed army. This resulted in a rare face off between the two leaders. Shingen was personally attacked by none other than Kenshin himself. Unable to draw his sword in time, Shingen, rising from his camp stool, was forced to parry Kenshin’s mounted sword strokes with his heavy wooden war fan. Shingen took three cuts on his body armor and a further seven on his war fan until one of his bodyguards charged forward and attacked Kenshin with a spear. The spear thrust glanced off Kenshin’s armor and struck his horse’s flank, causing the animal to rear. Several other samurai of Shingen’s guard then arrived and together they managed to drive Kenshin off.
Exciting? Yes! And by all accounts as historically accurate as one can really get looking back hundreds of years. Stay tuned for part 2 of the Heaven and Earth review. Next time we’ll look at the Wheel vs. the Crane too!