Thursday, 16 January 2020

Three Outlaw Samurai

Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai examines chivalry in the context of corrupt, self-serving systems. Tetsuro Tamba plays Sakon Shiba, a ronin who falls in with a group of starving peasants who have kidnapped a Magistrate's daughter in order to accelerate an interest in their desperate cause. Shiba represents the samurai in unblemished, heroic terms, a skilled swordsman who isn't obliged to tow the line or answer to uncaring masters. Shiba can pursue his own interpretation of the honour codes that govern and direct his warrior class. Shiba's resolve is such that he attracts others to his cause, first from the ranks of the men hired to kill him, later from within the Magistrate's own household.

Loyalties are tested throughout the film, hired guns and sworn swords alike chaffing at the promises Hisashi Igawa's Magistrate deliberately and, ultimately, foolishly breaks. His actions send shock waves through the film: if the man at the top (at least in local terms) can break the rules to further his own cause, then why not everybody else? Shiba's honourable example struggles to find purchase because it is altruistic, it doesn't track into the ruthlessly ordered, selfish power structures that define feudal Japan. Gosha stages his film to reflect these disconnections, the director and cinematographer Tadashi Sakai use their actors and environments to construct barriers - arms and bodies combine with the limits of the screen to become bars that trap people, physically separating them from other, potentially sympathetic players.

Gosha, a television director graduating to his first feature project, takes to the wider frame instantly, using the extra horizontal space to tell his story physically, through action and blocking. At one point five men arrive to kill Shiba - three over-confident thugs sprung from prison and two rather more cagey souls. The bruisers advance, hoping to overwhelm their target. The biggest braggart charges, Shiba strikes, quickly felling one of the men and taking himself from the left of the frame to its centre. The remaining criminals, stood either side of Shiba, slowly part like cinema curtains, leaving the frame to reveal the two remaining men - Isamu Nagato's Sakura and Mikijiro Hira's Kikyo - both of whom will become instrumental to Shiba's cause. It's beautifully done.

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