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!
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.
Posted by JPFmovies on June 9, 2019 in Movie Reviews
Tags: 1990 film, action, commentary, comments, film, history, Japanese film, Kenshin, military, Movie, movies, reviews, rival warlord, samurai, security, stalemate, Takeda Singen, War, warring states