• Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai (Animeigo) DVD Review

    Released by: Animeigo
    Released on: February 9th, 2010.
    Director: Tadashi Imai
    Cast: Kinnosuke Nakamura, Eijiro Tono, Kyoko Kishida, Masayuki Mori, Shinjiro Ebara
    Year: 1963
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    Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai - Movie Review:

    Tadashi Imai’s Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai movie opens in the Tokyo of 1963 where a worker named Susumu Iikuru (Kinnosuke Nakamura) lays at the side of a bed where his fiancé, Kyoko (Yoshiko Mita), lays still after a suicide attempt. Susumu’s internal monologue tells us that his family has a history of tragedy and mentions a record of these events which have been passed down from generation to generation. From here, with that set up out of the way, we travel back in time to learn about his family starting in the year 1600 with a man named Jirozaemon (Nakamura again) who roams the countryside as a ronin. He teams up with a group of soldiers only to find that the upcoming battle won’t work in his favor. Rather than let his master, Shibiku Shosuke Hori (played by Eijiro Tono), take the blame, Jirozaemon commits suicide.

    Years pass and Jirozaemon's son Saijaemon (again played by Nakamura) tries convince a very sickly Hori to go to the doctors for help but Hori, not wanting to listen, forces him to stay in the home. Later, his grandson, Kyutaro (Nakamura) takes a job with a local politician named Tanbanomaki Munemasa Hori (Masayuki Mori) who coerces him into getting into bed with him. Unbeknownst to Hori, however, is the fact that one of his kept women, the lovely Lady Hagi (Kyoko Kishida), has fallen for Kyutaro causing her master to go into a jealous rage.

    The film then details the trials and tribulations experienced by other members of the family line, such as Shuzo (Nakamura), a samurai in the service of Yasutaka Hori (Shinjiro Ebara), who is cold hearted enough to ask Shuzo to dispose of his daughter, Sato (Kikko Matsuoka) for purely political reasons. Years later, a rickshaw driver named Shingo (Nakamura) does his best to help a distressed man who was once quite powerful only to lose his fiancé to him and then, during the Second World War we learn how another of Susumu’s elders became a kamikaze pilot. It all ties in to the modern day plot quite nicely.

    As the film plays out, we realize that as Susumu’s descendants have all strictly adhered to the Bushido Code, they’ almost wound up damning themselves by doing so. Tragedy is a way of life for them, and you almost get the impression as the movie plays out that this entire bloodline is, in a sense, cursed. This repetition takes a lot of the suspense out of the film as by the time the second or third story arc comes around, we know it won’t end well, but the similarities in theme and character development actually do an interesting job of tying everything together. The fact that the film is incredibly well acted by the entire cast and specifically by Kinnosuke Nakamura (the guy plays seven separate parts here and if you don’t pay really close attention you will believe its seven different actors and not the same person) certainly helps while Tadashi Imai’s solid direction results in a very assured and confident production.

    The going gets fairly heavy in spots and the picture is definitely a grim one, the film is interesting in its portrayal of its characters predestinations. There’s a sincerity to it all that can be pretty gripping in spots and while the film can be cruel, as the title implies, it never feels overdone or exploitative. Some lamentably authentic animal cruelty will certainly offend more sensitive viewers but it is, like it or not, in keeping with the character responsible for the action in question. The homosexual seduction scene is handled with an eerie, subversive lecherousness that may rub some more politically sensitive types the wrong way (it’s almost vampiric), but it’s all done in a completely believable manner and again, as with the rest of the stronger content in the film, it makes sense in the context of the story.

    Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai - DVD Review:

    Bushido debuts on domestic DVD in a strong 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that has been properly flagged for progressive scan and which generally looks okay for its age but leaves definite room for improvement. There are a few instances of compression artifacts and even one or two spots where you might see what looks like some minor macroblocking but print damage is minimal and the image is usually strong and clean. Black levels aren’t bad and the contrast looks right so the lighter tones of the black and white picture look to be properly set. Some occasional flicker is evident here and there but for a film fast approaching its fiftieth birthday, it looks pretty good.

    The Japanese language Dolby Digital Mono track, which includes optional English subtitles, is well balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. Dialogue is clean and clear and while there isn't an abundance of channel separation to note, there aren't any problems here - the movie sounds pretty good though there are times where the high end is just a little bit shrill.

    Animeigo’s extras are, as usual, heavy on the written word. Included in the supplemental section are some interesting program notes that put the whole story into cultural and pop cultural context and which provide some welcome background information on the principal players involved and where they were at professionally and personally during the time this movie was made. Biographies for the central cast and crew members are also provided. There’s also an interesting essay on the history of the Bushido Code from writer Randy Schadel that, again, adds further perspective to the feature and which makes a welcome addition to the disc.

    Aside from that, look are two trailers for the feature as well as trailers for a few other Animeigo samurai titles, a still gallery, an interactive map, animated menus and chapter selection.

    Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai - The Final Word:

    Brilliantly acted and remarkably dark, Bushido: The Cruel Code Of The Samurai is a pretty hard film to take issue with. It looks great, it’s well paced, and while it’s often very dark, it’s also very gripping and just really put together in pretty much every way. Animeigo’s DVD looks great and sounds alright and the extras, while a bit light, help make this uniquely Japanese film more accessible to western audiences.