Mushuku mono

Director: Kenji Misumi

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Mushuku mono Raizo Ichikawa stars as "Lone Tree" or Ipponmatsu in Mushuku mono (On the Road Forever; aka, Lone Wanderer, or, Drifting Crow, Daiei, 1964) with supporting performances by Eiko Taki, Jun Fujimaki, Toru Abe, Koichi Mizuhara & Shosaku Sugiyama.

In this beautifully photographed color scope film, Lone Tree is a wandering gambler a la Chuji Kunisada (the Japanese Robin Hood). He strolls into a village in search of his father's killer of five years before.

A gambling boss (Jun Fujimaki) became suddenly wealthy at the time of Lone Tree's father's death & Lone Tree investigates, discovering a power behind the scenes (Toru Abe), & an even shadowier figure behind him (Kenjiro Ishiyama)

This group of criminals are slavers sending peasants to Sado Island to die in the gold mines, & Lone Tree wrecks havoc on the underhanded goings-on.

For once the hero of a film doesn't do everything singlehandledly. We get to see peasants rising & fighting in their own behalf. Other than this, this theme is developed in a workmanlike manner, & the potentially serious social issues are skirted in favor of a strictly action-oriented plot.

Lone Tree's philosophy of duelling is it does not take skill to kill people, it takes explosiveness. When toward the film's climax he is confronted by the vicious yojimbo Washiro (Keichi Taki), the samurai takes a well-trained stance, but Lone Tree runs at him like a demon out of hell. Explosiveness wins out over calculated swordsmanship.

Some of the choreography is reminiscent of the Zatoichi series, as well it would be with Kenji Misumi directing; & physically, Raizo is looking his best. As such films go, apart from the grand opportunity to see Raizo in motion, On the Road Forever is only typical as a story, but so smoothly directed, filmed, edited, choreographed, & acted, that it is a very exciting film even with few surrises.

Mushuku monoThere is some effort at characterization that makes especially the young samurai Kuroki Yaichiro (Kenjiro Ishiyama) likeable & vulnerable. He says, "I did great in the dojo, but..." for he is both unwilling to kill, & a fraid of being killed, & regrets his lack of samurai spirit.

His subserviant attitude toward Lone Tree reflects his failure on the road as a ronin, as he's weak from hunger, desparate enough to try to rob a yakuza gang, needy & pitiable, quite a difference from the usual proud ronin who looks down on other classes.

Kuroki is out to clear his father's name, for he was the one survivor of the same ambush that, five years before, left Lone Tree's father & four others dead.

Kuroki is a lonely fellow who is almost desparate in the manner by which he seeks Lone Tree's friendship. But Lone Tree, though himself a mere gambler, constantly berates & insults the young samurai, saying, "Your father killed mine!" & being wholy unforgiving.

Kuroki's vulnerability is genuinely moving. SPOILER ALERT! When the fairly obvious twist occurs, & it turns out that Lone Tree's father was actually the survivor, & has become the secret power behind the gambling & labor bosses, we're not surprised that a decent man like Kuroki doesn't take advantage of the turned tables to berate Lone Tree. Rather, he says, "Poor fellow," knowing exactly how a son must feel.

Although even these interesting events are rather manipulative of the viewer, & the film overall no super winner, there is genuine pathos in the father vs. son duel at the end. Though the film was wishy-washy on the issue of slavery in feudal Japan, it is intense regarding the issue of patricide.

Mushuku monoRaizo's character can't kill his father even though the fellow is evil. But the old fart is so moved by his son that he suddenly remembers Lone Tree's face as a little boy. When he realizes he would've lost the duel if Lone Tree hadn't backed off, the father throws himself on his own sword in expiation.

The miraculous change of heart in the purely evil man is a bit hoky, but a gruesome tragic endings of this sort are just the thing to provide Raizo an ideal moment for his ability to project misery & darkness. END SPOILER ALERT

I first saw this film as a subtitled 35 mm dvd originally distributed by Daiei International, & now part of the Berkeley Art Museum's Pacific Film Archive under the title On the Road Forever.

That very copy is available for rental, but only for non-profit screenings, meaning mainly to universities or the Japan Society or museums a few of which have the capacity to project 35 mm prints. Not unexpectedly, it is rarely shown anywhere.

It has long been available on dvd without subtitles. But in 2007 it also became available on dvd from the reliable www.samuraidvd.com with English subtitles. Included in the jewelbox is a nice little pictorial leaflet about director Kenji Misumi & actor Raizo Ichikawa, with the title Homeless Drifter.

It's so great that this film, once almost impossible for even the most devoted Japanese film fan to get a chance to see, is now easily available to anyone.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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