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Tag Archives: Ichikawa Raizo

Talk about getting the screw job–you’ve got to see this The Betrayal (1966).

As you all know, Ichikawa Raizo is one of my favorite actors of all time.  His stock only increased after seeing this hard to find film.

The Betrayal is a black and white cinematography classic that should be more often acknowledged as the great piece that it is. The story is about a naively honorable samurai (played by Ichikawa Raizo) who comes to the bitter realization that his devotion to the moral samurai principles makes him a very vulnerable person. He ends up taking the blame for other’s evil deeds, with an understanding that he will be exiled for one year and restored to the clan’s good graces after the political situation dies down. But as betrayal begins to heap upon betrayal, he realizes he’ll have to live out his life as a ronin at best, at worst hunted down and killed.

The movie opens when a samurai enters the Minazuki clan’s school of Issaka Yaichiro to challenge the master to a fight who is currently away. Kobuse Takuma (Ichikawa Raizo) receives him, and the samurai, from the Iwashiro Clan, calls him into a duel. Kobuse refuses, and the samurai leaves. On his way home, however, the samurai is shooting his mouth off and he is followed by two members of the Minazuki clan and in an act of cowardice, the gum flapping samurai is killed from behind. His clan discovers the murder, and calls for the murderer(s) to be discovered, arrested and punished, whoever they may be. A Minazuki clan official, Kobuse’s soon to be father-in-law, devises a scheme to cover up the scandal: Kobuse will take the blame and disappear for a year while the soon-to-be father in law tries to iron things out even going so far as to say that he will commit seppuku to prove Kobuse’s innocence. Only a fool would buy into this scheme, but as a soon-to-be son in law, Kobuse probably felt obligated to agree.

As we follow his year in exile we see Kobuse degenerate from the upstanding disciple that he was into a soused ronin. But the year in exile is not the heart of this film.

The climax of the film is one of the most detailed, well planned and well executed ones I have ever seen. The integration of a variety of devices (a water well and bucket, ladders, wooden boards, carts, ropes, and several different kinds of weapons), makes Raizo’s sword-fighting worthy of Musashi’s legendary status by enduring one of the most epic battles since Musashi’s clash against the entire Yoshioka school. Typically extended movie fights tend to become superfluous after a while, particularly when the hero never tires or otherwise loses his edge due to battle fatigue, but here, after wave upon wave of assaults, Raizo physically deteriorates, starting on his feet and eventually rolling around in the dirt. He becomes parched, thirsting for water, his hair disheveled, his hand so tense that he can’t let go of his sword even after it is broken and his face is in pure agony. For Kobuse, this is more than a fight; it regresses into an almost reptilian rage to survive.

Even after he is acknowledged as innocent, samurai pride will not permit the carnage to stop. Whether or not he can survive, with our hero’s hard breathing, staggering exhaustion, at times barely able to stand, it is tortuous and agonizing to watch him. The final images of Raizo’s worn-down figure barely still standing above the carnage, with his girlfriend (Kaoru Yachigusa) knelt before him, has less a sense of victory about it than a sense of appalling disgust with a warrior culture that could lead to such a monstrous moment.

A majority of chambara fans (especially those who love samurai for their “exoticism”) probably just watch for the Cuisinart effect, and really don’t care about the nuances of culture and history that may be gleaned from such movies. This is a film that can be appreciated by that lot, and also by those who have a more serious, more academic interest in samurai life on film. Why The Betrayal this isn’t as famous as some other chambara film from the 1960’s is a question I can’t answer. The bottom line is that The Betrayal is arguably the legendary Ichikawa Raizo’s best performance.

 

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Dangerous paid tribute on her site to Japan in light of the natural disasters. So I hereby interrupt this Burt Reynolds tribute to do the same. Ichikawa Raizo stars in the Japanese classic “The Third Shadow” (1963)—you had better turn on the lights.

The Third Shadow (1963) is set circa 1567 in the mountain regions of Hida and stars Ichikawa Raizo as a peasant’s son named “Kyonosuke” who dreams of becoming a samurai.  Kyonosuke gets his wish not because of his abilities or character, but because he looks almost exactly like their lord Yasutaka, allowing Raizo to play one of the Lord’s doubles.  Well, actually triples in this case, as Raizo is the third of three “shadow men,” but is the one who by far looks the most like Lord Yasutaka.

Sure, as a shadow you get to sleep with the Lord’s beautiful concubines and receive numerous other perks, however the job has its drawbacks too.  In order to be convincing as doubles, the shadows must not only act like the Lord, but also maintain their physical resemblance as well (like limping from a sprained ankle).  Also during the constant civil wars that plagued Japan in the 15th and 16th centuries lords went into plenty of battles.  As part of their bravado, Lords often lead troops into savage conflicts resulting in serious wounds.  As a shadow, if the Lord gets a wound, so do you.  When the Lord loses his left eye during a battle, one of the shadows flees, knowing full well what is in store for them, but when he fails to escape he is brutally killed.  The two remaining shadows (including Raizo) are blinded in their left eyes with a burning poker in order to remain good doubles for their Leader.

When the Lord loses an arm in another battle, only Kyonosuke (Raizo) is in a position to help him.  He now understands this will mean one of his own arms will be chopped off, so he decides to kill the Lord and get out of Dodge to continue his pursuit of a samurai career elsewhere.  Unfortunately Kyonosuke (Raizo) doesn’t get far and must replace the Lord so that no one finds out he (the Lord) is missing or dead.  No one other than Kyonosuke (Raizo) himself knows that he, the Lord’s shadow, killed the missing Lord.
The movie so far has been excellent for its adventure and action.  The film takes an interesting turn and develops into an eerie fight for personal identity, similar to Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha (1980), when the lord’s imposter (Tatsuya Nakadai) feels he is dying as armies are wiped out before his eyes, even though in fact he has no real connection with those armies.  Raizo wants out but no one believes Kyonosuke’s raving insistence that he is merely a peasant, not the Lord, and he ends up locked up as a madman for the rest of his life, the Lord’s insanity becoming the clan’s most closely guarded secret.  His dream to be a samurai leads to ironic tragedy in this example of the genre roughly translated as “cruel historicals” or zankoku jidai-geki.

The Third Shadow is a nearly unknown masterpiece with amazing use of shadows and darkness as part of its scenes.  Add a plot that is worthy of the cruelties and identity conflicts of Kafka transposed to the samurai era and you have an powerful film.

If you like Asian cinema like I do and can get your hands on the film make sure to see it.  If you can’t get your hands on the film but have a sincere desire to watch it, let me know and we’ll see what we can do for you.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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