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Ok JPFmovie fans here is Part 2 of Heaven and Earth (1990).

In part one of the Heaven and Earth review we talked about how equally matched these 2 warlords were.  Now we are going to look at what is probably a pretty authentic recreation of the battle formations used during that period of Japanese history.

Kenshin’s “Winding Wheel” vs. Shingen’s “Crane.”

We briefly discuss to the “Winding Wheel” employed by Kenshin and Singen’s “Crane” technique.  According to Japanese historian Stephen Turnbull the “Kuruma gakari” (wheel) this formation, drawn like a spiral, envisages successive units of an army being brought against the enemy ‘as the wheel winds on’.  It is famously described in the Koyo Gunkan as being the formation adopted by Uesugi Kenshin for his dawn attack against Takeda Shingen at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima in 1561. It is essentially an idealized representation of a tactical move that replaces tired units by fresh ones without breaking the momentum.

Singen’s The Woodpecker pecks at the tree, and the vibrations scare the insect out so he can eat it. Kansuke (a Singen General) suggested sending a garrison up the mountain by a round-about route late at night to “peck” at the Kenshin’s troops in the early hours, flushing them down to the plain below where the bulk of the Takeda forces would be waiting!

The plan was approved, and troops went up the mountain, however when they arrived, the Uesugi, whether through having guessed the maneuvers or from having been tipped off by spies, had moved down the opposite side of the mountain in the darkness, and positioned themselves on the plain where the Takeda would not be expecting them for a another few hours.  This did not help Takeda’s cause at all.

Kenshin’s tactics for so effective that they broke through Singen’s lines and were able to personally attack the Takeda himself who received some cuts until some of his bodyguards were able to come to his aid and help fight of Kenshin himself as well as other in cadre.

The battle was costly for both sides.  a costly battle for both sides. Kenshin had lost 72 percent, or roughly 12,960 men, while Shingen, although taking 3,117 enemy heads as trophies, had lost 62 percent, or 12,400 men. In one of the largest battles ever fought in Japanese history, the “Crane’s Wing” formation, when executed by well-disciplined troops, could only temporarily stop that of the “winding wheel.”

Once again, these two rivals managed to fight to a stalemate—nothing ever being settled between the two they even died within months of each other.

The JPFmovie staff all recommend this film.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Two equally matched daimyo (warlords) one concerned with heaven the other concerned with earth. Part 1 of the Japanese film Heaven and Earth (1990).

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!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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We here at JPFmovies hear a lot about Manga—though we have never read one they seem to be the basis for a lot of Japanese films. So let’s take a look at some more Manga that have made it to the big screen. Samurai Commando Mission 1549 (2005).

Yes JPFmovie fans by your request we are going to look at some more manga books that have evolved to the big screen.  This manga series focusing on the adventures of a modern-day Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (Japan’s army) unit that accidentally travels through time to the Warring States period of Japanese history.

 

The Japanese army unit is conducting an experiment which is meant to shield military equipment from the effects of solar flares with the use of electromagnetic shields. However, these shields open a time portal and all soldiers assigned to the test suddenly find themselves stranded on a battlefield in the Sengoku period (the year 1549) and under attack by a samurai army.  Initially a number of the soldiers are killed which was not a bight move by the primitive warriors as the soldiers retaliate with modern formidable arsenal.  Several hours later, a reverse effect occurs, and a wounded samurai warrior suddenly appears in the 21st century.

Following so far?  Fast forward a couple of years and black holes are starting to appear all over Japan—the result of a changing timeline as the modern soldiers live and operate in the past.  Well the Army needs to do something to prevent the destruction of what is modern day Japan.

Conditions are right to repeat the experiment and send a new unit back in time to bring back the stranded soldiers in an effort to stop the potential destruction of modern day Japan.  Well the samurai brought forward in time has been living here for a couple of years and after suffering some culture shock is chomping at the bit to go back to his own time and resume his place as a samurai.  Well we see the unit prepare to go back in time and set thing right, but some frustrating precautions are taken.  For instance, the soldiers are bringing non-lethal bio-degradable bullets in an effort to minimize their footprint.  Fools!  They are going into one of the most violent times in history and they are worried about biodegradable bullets?

 

When the newcomers first arrive back in time they are ambushed by a bunch of samurai just waiting to kill them.  It seems that the first bunch of soldiers have used their technology to take over with the unit commander killing the powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga and taking his place.  These soldiers have used their modern technology to not only survive but to conquer and have started building things like a refinery and a bomb that will destroy half of Mount Fuji since these guys want to rewrite Japanese history.  Also with their advanced technology they have been able to upkeep their equipment and weapons.

Long story short there is a struggle between the soldiers trying to conquer Japan and change history and our newcomers who want to restore the timeline.  With the window for the people to return to the future closing a battle of wits and new and old technology rages.  After destroying the oil refinery the base of operations for the soldiers bent on changing the timeline is destroyed and the people barely make it back to the future so to speak.

 

Yeah the movie is kind of predictable but it does look at one of the scenarios that probably everyone has thought at one time or another; that is, what would happen if somehow modern day military technology were transported back in time and used against primitive weapons.  The JPFmovies staff is currently researching this issue but there have been several American movies that have sent modern day aircraft carriers back to Pearl Harbor for instance and how it would change the outcome of history.  Besides it is also kind of fun to see modern day weapons devastate primitive “screw heads” as Bruce Campbell put it in Army of Darkness.

It is a lite film, predictable but not unwatchable.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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The fisherman versus the fighters: Ganryujima (2003).

Anyone who knows anything about this site is familiar with our passion for Asian films.  One of the central figures in these films is the famed 17th century Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.  Typically Musashi is portrayed as a dignified and violent, yet philosophical Ronin.  Not in Ganryujima this time he is and psychotic, vulgar, violent and cruel bully, carrying with him the aura of an insane homeless man who is the center of his own megalomaniacal universe.

The movie focuses on the duel with Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island.  From the opening scene Musashi is clearly the villain and Sasaki Kojiro is the honorable samurai and Musashi apologist.  Kojiro goes so far as to defend each of Musashi’s cruel actions as a necessary byproduct of the duels he was in.  Ganryujima points out that this duel which made him the undisputed fencing champion of Japan is never mentioned in Musashi’s famous Book of The Five Rings.  The film has a theory why Musashi left this out of his book; that is, he does not remember it because the fisherman taking him out to the island duel knocked him out cold with an oar and that he is mistaken for Musashi.  Since the fisherman has no fencing skills, he ends up killing a befuddled Kojiro in self-defense who is unprepared for such an outlandish bout.  When Musashi comes to, he has temporary amnesia that quickly vanishes—along with his disgraceful characteristics.  Musashi is “re-born” as the Ronin we all know and love.  It is not a great movie; however anyone with any interest in the swordsman really should take a look at this novel view of Musashi.

The film starts after Musashi has defeated Baiken, destroyed the entire Yoshioka School and he has beheaded the ten year old Yoshioka figurehead.  In Ganryujima he is not traveling to the famous island to fight a duel with Kojiro. He is taking a boat ride to die.  The movie makes a game of having him “forget” his swords and having the runs, but by the end of the movie, when his real personality emerges it is obvious this was not a matter of forgetting anything.

While Kojiro waits for Muashi, he explains the real reason for the duel to one of the naïve witnesses; that Kojiro is to die even if he wins the duel and that the unknowing naïve witness is to kill Kojiro should Muashi fail too.  We are then walked through Kojiro’s situation of the clan using the duel as an assassination play because many of the non-mainstream retainers look to Kojiro and the Sasaki family as their leaders in a revolt.  Knowing that if the central government finds out about a revolt their clan will be dissolved, they decide to sacrifice Kojiro.  I’d  just like to say that these Asian people are really into the clan system and I wish someone would tell me why anything can be done as long as it is in the name of the clan it is ok?

After the fisherman kills Kojiro and returns to his hamlet with a barely conscious Musashi, a mass of samurai who have come for their revenge.  Now Musashi does not want to fight but is left with no alternative.  First he beats them without cutting them, but after a few moments it is clear that he will have to kill them all by releasing the beast within himself.  The transition from the dignified Ronin to the animal killer reminds me of Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Incredible Hulk.  Like the Incredible Hulk, Musashi butchers his opponents almost gracefully.  This scene alone makes the movie worth watching.

I give this film full credit for its originality; I was totally taken by surprise—which almost never happens.  And while the cinematography was excellent, for some reason it had a made-for-tv-movie feel about it.  For Dangerous its final fight scene (shown in full here) is spectacularly choreographed rivaling any I have seen.  But again, I just can’t shake the made-for-tv-movie feel.  It does not matter.  As I mentioned above anyone with any interest in the legendary swordsman should take the time to view this film.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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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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Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya (2010) and Dangerous this one has choreography for you.

Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya is a 2010 Thai action movie directed by Nopporn Watin. The film features renowned Muay Thai boxers Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and Anuwat Kaewsamrit along with its main cast of actors.

The lead character in the film is based on an actual historical figure Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese samurai/adventurer who later became a governor in the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1590-1630).  Yamada is the true story of how a samurai warrior came to serve as one of the personal bodyguards of King Naresuan the Great.  Yamada’s story is laced with beheadings, broken bones and many bloody wounds; however, he was eventually granted a lordship and served as governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The young samurai, who lived during the Edo period, came to be a soldier in the Japanese volunteer regiment in Ayothaya.  The higher-ups of regiment were using him as a scapegoat to justify the failure of the soldier’s inability to subdue the Thai.  Ninjas try to assassinate the samurai in a dark alley.  Vastly outnumbered, the young samurai puts up a good fight but is seriously wounded.  Four Thai fighters appear just as the ninja are about to be dealt the fatal blow.  The Thai fighters brutally kill most of the assassins while a few escape.  In accordance with their Buddhist teachings, they take the samurai to their village, tend to his wounds and treat him as a guest.  Over time and under the watchful and wise eye of Sir Monk he begins the road to recovery.  The viewer quickly sees that Sir Monk is the people’s spiritual and de facto leader whose wisdom is greatly respected even by the King. 

While Yamada recovers, there is another assassination attempt on his life.  Though far from healed, Yamada again dishes out some serious punishment on his attackers who must also contend with the village Boxers who quickly arrive on the scene.  After the enemy is driven away, the boxers blame and beat Yamada for causing trouble in their otherwise peaceful town.  One look from Sir Monk and the Boxers stop the beating and are hauled into the temple to have a serious word regarding their inappropriate behavior.  While Sir Monk takes the Boxers out to the proverbial woodshed, he tells them that he and he alone has the authority to kill whitey.  An order that will only be issued if Yamada starts to hurt the villagers.

As Yamada recovers, he begins to contribute around the village by doing chores and eyeing their forging process.  When he is back in shape, he attends the Boxer’s practice and foolishly challenges one to a bout.  The eight weapons of Muay Thai – fists, feet, knees and elbows make quick work of him to the point of embarrassment.  One of the boxers suggests that he ask Sir Monk to teach him the techniques of Muay Thai training.  These training sequences are set against the beautiful backdrops of temples and lush forests.  It is interesting to watch the blending of the Thai boxing style with Yamada’s lifelong samurai training especially when he uses his sword.

Yamada’s martial arts background helps him quickly learn the Thai style and at the end of the training, Sir Monk makes him an officially sanctioned warrior with holy tattoos and all.  Sir Monk’s approval permits whitey to join King Naresuan’s personal bodyguards.  Yamada sticks out like a sore thumb as a mostly white clean-shaven man when compared to his dark skinned and the crazy hairstyles of his comrades.

Though he has become a full-blown warrior, he is still not fully accepted by the other Boxers or villagers.  We start to see Yamada begin the extremely secret process of forging Japanese steel and what are unquestionably the best swords in the world alone since no one will help him.  Later we find out that the sword he was forging is for the boxer who has taken extra time to practice with him after hours to help Yamada perfect his skills.  Sir Monk is contemporaneously meeting with his top fighters who are preparing to try out to be the king’s guard and battle a rival nation state in a customary contest.  Here Sir Monk takes the Siamese warriors to task by telling them (and the blacksmiths) that Yamada is by far the best forger in the village and that his swords (which Sir Monk still has) are the most perfect weapons he has ever seen.  As a demonstration of the exquisite artisanship Yamada is capable of Sir Monk throws up a flower petal and as it falls to the ground, it is cleanly split in half when it comes into contact with the samurai’s blade. 

The bodyguard tryouts are nothing short of merciless but whitey makes it through—much to Sir Monk’s delight.  These tryouts are wonderful representations of this ancient and effective style of fighting.  The survivors are sent to engage their Burmese counterparts who have not won this gruesome contest in years.  Here again we are treated to seeing Yamada’s deeply ingrained samurai fencing techniques combined with his new hand to hand combat style.  I believe that one reason Yamada is so effective with his sword against the enemy is that the natives have never contended with a full-blown samurai using the most deadly of weapons.

After returning as victors, Yamada believe he must bring finality to the Japanese question and returns to that dark alley where he was almost killed, again facing an army of ninjas and the head of the Japanese spy ring that wants him eliminated.  He makes mincemeat of the ninjas but is ultimately saved by the fighter he gave the sword to who takes a bullet meant for him—his savior dies at the scene. 

Putting Muay Thai fighters and samurais together is a fantastic idea for a movie.  It also shows that humans can change and redeem themselves, even in the hands of an enemy.  This film is astonishing not only because it shows a path of redemption, but because it features some brutal Muay Thai boxing that is very realistic, striking and primeval: these guys are the real deal champion Thai boxers and I sure as shit would not want to meet them on unfriendly terms.

This movie did a fine job with what many might say was an interesting, though not epic, historical story.  I recommend this film to anyone (that means you Dangerous) who is interested in the choreography of martial arts, as it is real and something I have not seen before.  Watch and if you don’t like it let me know why.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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