Shogun's Samurai (Yaguy ichizoku no inbo, 1978) stars Kinnosuke Yorozuya (he went by Kinnosuke Nakamura, until his falling out with his famed kabuki family).
Kinnosuke returned to Toei Studios after his own production company went broke. His buddy Shintaro Katsu of Zatoichi fame had an indebted independent studio as well, & Kinnosuke tried to help bale out his friend, resulting in Katsushin dragging down Kinnosuke's company too. Of the star-owned independents of the 1970s, only Toshiro Mifune's survived, & even his studio came close to demise.
His shame at the time was deep, but the fact was, the Japanese film industry was on a decline & very few of the big stars with independent production companies were going to be making their own films & television shows for much longer.
Kinnosuke had been a big star for Toei when he was young, & the studio was so glad to have him back they set out to work him nearly death with a series of extremely well made epic films, including this one.
Toei had stopped making cinematic samurai films, except as television serials, & Shogun's Samurai was trumpeted & well advertised as Toei's & Kinnosuke's mutual return together to the big screen.
It was a "serious" big-screen version of one of their most popular television serials (Yagu Conspiracy by which the film version is also sometimes known) that had starred Shinichi Chiba.
The movie gained several remarkable story alterations distinct from the television version, changes suited to Kinnosuke's fabulous performance as Yagyu Tajima the Shogun's own sword instructor, & father of Yagyu Jubei the master of ninjas. The support-cast was star-studded with plenty of cameos including for the perennial favorite Toshiro Mifune.
Director Kinji Fukasaki, better known for his yakuza (gangster) films, also took advantage of this new moment in the sun to produce something beyond the average for chambara or action-historicals.
It may not be the equal of the true heyday of the samurai film, but that's what it strives for. The film might have benefited by a simpler story line, but in his gory gangster epics Fukasaki was devoted to convolutions of plot, & adapted his own method to the Tokugawa era setting.
There are so many great central & side-characters like the giggly sissy courtier (Mikio Narita) who is a great swordsman; the onnagata (female impersonator) assassin; the severe rival dojo master Ogasawara Gensinsai (Tetsuro Tamba); the young Yagyu swordswoman (Etsuko Shihomi); & Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba's most famous recurring character of Yagyu Jubei.
Plus Chiba's entire "Japan Action Club" youngsters are in the background cast as a village of ninjas whose best young fighter is played by Hiroyuki Sanada. One of Yagyu Jubei's brothers is played by Chiba's actual brother Jiro (Yabuki) Chiba.
Kinnosuke as Jubei's machievelian father Lord Yagyu is played with Kabuki excess, but so credibly that Kinnosuke is mesmerizing, & his climactic "It's a dream!" hysteria-speech concludes the tale on a note of shocking intensity.
It was an auspicious moment of reinvigoration for Toei films & the studio did not maltreat their returned star quality-wise. They did maltreat him work-wise with a non-stop work schedule, driving him at full space for big epic upon big epic, including Swords of Vengeance: The Fall of Ako Castle (Ako-jo danzetsu, 1978), The Shogun Assassins (Sanada Yukimura no bouryaku, 1979), & Shogun's Destiny (Tokugawa ichizoku no houkai, 1980), until Kinnosuke collapsed, physically & emotionally depleted.
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