Based on a novel by Ryotaro Shiba (1923-1996), Moeyo-ken (The Blazing Sword aka Turbulence, Shochiku, 1966) is a Bakumatsu period samurai drama telling of the early careers of Okita Shoshi & especially Hijikata Toshizo, followed by their deeds within the pro-shogunate Shinsen Group in Kyoto.
Many films have been made about Shinsengumi, the organization that fought to support the Tokugawa government even after it had fallen & the cause was completely lost. Hijikata, a central figure of Shinsengumi, is traditionally (& as an historical exaggeration) portrayed as rather demonic, sometimes as a rampaging homosexual psychopath with a penchant to kill fellow Shinsen-gumi members.
But Moeyo-ken attempts to give Hijikata human dimension that makes him comprehensible if still not exactly a good fellow. He was a peasant who rose to the status of a hatamoto samurai.
The story shows him using a legs- & knee-cutting sword style very wildly, which would leave crippled anyone he failed to kill outright. Though it is not actually stated, there seems to be an underlying sentiment as in Okamoto's Sword of Doom (1966) & Inagaki's Hiken (1963) that the sword reflects the soul, thus Hijikata's swordsmanship, like his spirit, has cruelty to it.
Shot elegantly in black & white, Moeyo-ken is a severe film of the subgenre of "cruel jidaigeki" which were rarely done in color. Director Hirokazu Ichimura did not often approach jidai-geki this seriously, as he also made comedies & campy Crimson Bat episodes.
But in the mid-60s arty downbeat samurai noir had a brief commercial heyday, & lighter directors jumped on board while they could: Inagaki with the above-mentioned Hiken instead of his usual epic color extravaganza, Tomotaka Tasaka with Shark (1964) instead of his samurai family dramas, as well as Ichimura with what would always be his best film Moeyo-ken.
Hijikata was played by Asahi Kurizuka who had already become closely associated with this role in the 1965 television series Shinsengumi keppuuroku.
The same novel was adapted as a television series Moeyo-ken that ran 1966-1967. In 1990 is was produced as a big telefilm starring Koji Yakusha as Hijikata (poster shown at right).
Its first film version was directed by Kenji Misumi, The Burning Sword (Moeyo-ken, Daiei, 1955). The same novel has also been mined & adapted for anime, manga, & video games.
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