Ronin in the Wilderness


Director: Mitsuo Murayama

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Ronin in the WildernessThe television series Koyo no so-ronin or Ronin in the Wilderness aka Lowly Ronin in the Wilderness was produced by Toshiro Mifune through his own production company from 1972 to 1973. There are episodes available in two sets of thirteen per four discs, without subtitles, as Koya no so-ronin & Shin Koya no so-ronin, & there's the pilot episode pirated off of Hawaiian television, marketed in the grey market as a movie with subtitles as Ronin of the Wilderness & carrying the additional episode subtitle on the film itself, Fighting for Justice.

The image Toshiro created for the central character was pretty much the same as his nameless yojimbo character for Kurosawa, except here he is not nameless. He's Kujuro Toge, the titular Ronin in the Wilderness, a standard wandering heroic type who manages to stay awfully well-pressed & well-fed for a guy just sauntering from place to place all the time without visible means of support.

The series featured recurring special guest Meiko Kaji, one of the most beautiful women in any cinema anywhere in the world. She plays Ofumi, a tough lady yakuza with a grudge against Kujuro. But she makes only a passing cameo appearance in the pilot episode & her enteire screen time likely amounts to a minute & a half. Whoever bought the subtitled dvd because the box promised Meiko's appearance will be roundly disappointed.

Directors of the individual episodes include such as Kazkuo Ikehiro & Tokuzo Tanaka, responsible for some of the most reliable chambara fare of the 1960s. The pilot episode was directed by Mitsuo Murayama. In all but physical dimensions, which are for television, & its hour length, it has the look & feel of a samurai feature film, minor but effective, & stands apart from the series as a complete story in & of itself.

Ronin in the WildernessA government police officer, Yamazaki Shingo, was killed along the mountain road. A child named Genta saw the ronin who committed the murder. Ritsu (Yoko Hamada) is a young woman whose husband Shinpachi Ikuta's (Shinjiro Ebara) has been assigned the case to investigate.

Shinpachi's wrongly acused friend Ichinosuke Sekine (Shoji Taiki) is a government officer framed by his own bosses. Ichinosuke is counting on his old friend Shinpachi to prove him innocent.

But his friend has been bribed to overlook the case. The investigator's wife Ritsu aggressively counsels her husband to act as corrupt men higher in government want him to, as it is his first & could be his only opportunity for advancement.

Kujuro the wilderness ronin wanders onto the scene & begins to keep the only witness safe until the full scope of the actual crime can be proven.

Series regulars Aiu Kosuke (Shun Ojide) the pistol-totin' wandering gambler, & a flimflam artist of the streets named Jirokichi (Jiro Sakagami) help Kujuro look into the matter, convinced as they are of an injustice.

While Kujuro protects the child witness from the ronin Tachijiro, the corrupt officials have their own plan to kill Tahichiro, the only man who could provide evidence of the officials' part in hiring the assassin to kill Yamazaki.

Ronin in the Wilderness Shinpachi is having an angsty crisis because he wants to do his job correctly even if corrupt higher-ups fail to advance him if he clears his friend.

Ritsu's insistance that he forget about Ichinosuke & accept bribes of advancement terrifies him, as he never knew she was so dissatisfied with their life, or with him as a minor rural officer.

In time he will learn Ritsu's ulterior motive. She in fact loves Shinpachi & their life together, but carries a serious grudge against Ichinosuke. She knows him to be an evil man, whether or not innocent of the one charge that has laid him low. From her point of view, if he is forced to commit seppuku for a crime he didn't commit, he deserved his fate because of crimes he did commit. Her story builds to an anguished conclusion for her & Shinpachi.

A climactic scene of rapid-paced battle with swordsmen & gunners places Kujuro at the center of the action & saves the day for everyone but poor Ritsu, so that the episode ends two story-threads one upbeat & successful, the other tragic to the highest degree.

In the coda, Kujuro is last seen wandering back into the mountains alone, not to come down until needed in the next episode. I liked this little tale & glad to see Mifune do his good-natured ronin shtick, but if no further episodes ever fall into my lap, I won't feel deprived.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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