Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun Legend of the End of the Tokugawa Era / 幕末太陽傳
Director Yuzo Kawashima was the subject of a small retrospective at the 2011 Tokyo Filmex. His acknowledged masterwork – often on ten best ever Japanese film lists and a favorite of Kurosawa – is Bakumatsu taiyoden. For the 100 year anniversary of Nikkatsu brand new print of this overlooked masterpiece has been struck. The Shohei Imamura penned film chronicles the times (the 1860s) and the adventures of Saheji (Frankie Sakai), a good-time hustler who runs up his bill at a brothel and is forced to work there to pay it off. His run-ins with crooks, johns, prostitutes and panoply of characters, shown through an almost Altman-esque tapestry, highlight a certain Tokyoite archetype that goes against the usual Japanese stereotype. Sakai, who’s always brilliant, celebrates the brash, conniving and generous spirit that Imamura made central to his oeuvre throughout his career as a director. Kawashima’s spot on direction keeps the action comic, lively and moving. The sometimes impenetrable slang and accents add to the mayhem, though they may be a bit difficult for non-natives (and natives too!).
Originally published in EL Magazine, January 2012