• Shogun’s Samurai – The Yagyu Clan Conspiracy

    Released by: Adness
    Released on: 8/17/2004
    Director: Kinji Fukasaku
    Cast: Sonny Chiba, Toshiro Mifune
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    What do you get when you combine Sonny Chiba, Toshiro Mifune, Etsuko Shiomi, Henry Sanada and Kinji Fukasaku? A damn good movie, that’s what. And that’s exactly what 1978’s The Shogun’s Samurai (also known as The Yagyu Conspiracy and not to be confused with Norifumi’s fun but vastly inferior Shogun’s Ninja) truly is.

    In this period samurai film, the second Shogun of Tokugawa has died without warning. This sends things into a little bit of disarray and the Shogun’s two sons, Lemitsu and Tadanaga, commence a small-scale civil war against each other to decide who will be the late Shogun’s successor. To further complicate matters, a group of noblemen are trying to take the power and control back from the Shogun’s family and give it to the Emperor, who they feel is more justly deserving of it.

    Yagyu Tajima (Kinnosuke Nakamura), a former instructor to the late Shogun’s son in the art of sword fighting, stands alongside Lemitsu as he is the oldest of the two sons and in Yagyu’s eyes, more fit to lead. Yagyu’s son Jubei (Sonny Chiba), however, has different plans for the way that things should work out, and finds himself on the opposite side of the battlefield than his father.

    Tadanaga, on the other hand, aligns himself with a powerful nobleman, the Lord Owari (Toshiro Mifune) and also earns his mother’s support. When they fail to prove conclusively that the Shogun fell victim to foul play, they leave the castle. This sets into play the Emperor’s plan to play both of the brothers off against each other in a power struggle that sets into motion a whole lot of ugliness between the two siblings and those surrounding them.

    Throw some ninjas into the mix, some fantastic scenes of combat and swordplay, as well as a whole lot of very pretty sets and you’ve got, as I said, a damn good movie. Fukasaku handles the action scenes wonderfully as always though avoids a lot of the handheld ‘shaky cam’ technique that he used so expertly in his earlier Yakuza films and again later in his swansong, Battle Royale.

    There’s a lot more to the movie than sword swinging bad asses though. Fukasaku keeps things really tense, especially towards the last third of the film at which point you realize exactly where things are heading and how they’re going to end, but never the less need to sit it out and see for yourself just precisely how the director is going to handle it.

    Performances are strong all the way around (and looking at the cast list for this movie – A list talent all around – that’s more or less a given) though Chiba and Nakamura really do steal the show. Those expecting an eyeball popping testicle ripping performance from Sonny will instead find a more subtle, refined screen presence but one that is no less effective than his ‘bad man from Japan’ persona that we all know and deeply, truly love.

    Despite the fact that some of the historical inaccuracies are quite glaring in terms of what happens and when, the film delivers on pretty much every level. It’s suspenseful, it’s surprising despite the gut feeling that you know how it’s going to end about two thirds of the way through, it’s expertly acted and the whole thing just looks absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. It is, in short, a damn good movie.


    While the colors on this Region 1 release are just a tad softer than those on the PAL release from Eureka!, the film still looks gorgeous on this DVD. The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen image sports nice bright colors, a high level of detail, and only the slightest hint of print damage. There is some very mild edge enhancement present in a couple of scenes but it doesn’t prove to be distracting. Mpeg compression isn’t a problem, and this is a very nice effort on Adness’ part.

    Adness presents Shogun’s Samurai in it’s original Japanese language with optional English subtitles that are clean, clear, easy to read, and free of any typographical errors. The audio itself is nice and clean sounding without any problems regarding hiss or distortion in either the dialogue, the sound effects, or the background music.

    Sadly, this is where this release falls short – the only extra features on the DVD are a pair of teaser trailers and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Inside the keepcase are some interesting liner notes from Tokyoscope author Patrick Macias that detail the history of the film, also providing some background information on the director.

    The Final Word:

    Adness brings a terrific film to DVD for North American audiences in style. Despite the fact that the disc is lacking in the extra features department, Shogun’s Samurai – The Yagyu Clan Conspiracy remains a terrific and epic period film with a stellar cast and some gorgeous camera work. The movie looks and sounds great and this DVD comes highly recommended.