Unlike some of Toei Studio's "youth" actors of the 1950s, Hashizo Okawa never entirely outgrew his pretty-boy looks & roles.
Very rarely, as in Brutal Story at End of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari, 1964), was he permitted to reach any height of intense samurai drama of the artful doomful sort.
Certainly he comes nowhere near it for The Third Contest; aka, Duel of the Swordsmen (Mondonosuke sanban-shobu, 1965), in which he plays the fresh-faced boyish Yomedone Mondonosuke.
Hashizo himself sings the appealing enka folksong under the opening credits. This is a well made commercial film but its aspirations are slight. Hashizo remains fundamentally a star for young adults or children, under director Tetsuya Yamauchi who was one of the best young-adult's chambara directors & also directed Hashizo's "samurai detective" classic Zenigata Heiji (1966).
Katakura Ikkansai (Shigeru Amachi), Mondonosuke's sensei (teacher), may be in trouble in Edo, or so Mondonosuke's dream has warned him. He quickly returns to Edo & to his sensei's dojo (practice hall), where he has not set foot in three years.
He'd left to study the secret Sadanami-giri style with a swordmaster who rarely took disciples. He frets his sensei won't take him back in, as he did not approve of Mondonosuke following a second master, plus Ikkansai had had no choice but to expel his best student after fighting with a rival school, though Mondonosuke had been mostly innocent of wrongdoing.
This fear of rejection by a father figure is a commonplace of juvenile samurai films, attended with die-hard filial feelings & behavior.
He soon learns a dark ronin by the name of Yajuro (played by the amazingly cool, mature actor Jushiro Konoe) has been hired to attack the sensei. Yajuro has seriously injured him using the formidible Ryubi or "Dragon Tail" style.
Even bedridden with injury, Mondonosuke's sensei won't revoke Mondonosuke's explusion. Suffering on his deathbed, the fencing hall is given over to Sagenta Miyamoto (another youth-actor, Kotaro Satomi), who is at least given explicit permission to revoke Mondonosuke's expulsion, which Ikkansai had not personally felt at liberty to do. Thus Mondonosuke arrives in time for tearful farewells.
Rival Omiyo Genba (Kanjuro Arashi) should have a clear road to becoming a shogunate fencing instructor after Ikkansai's death, but the return of Mondonosuke spoils his certainty. So he restorts to further dark dealings with the dark Yajuro.
Genba's wife Miyo, when still a maiden, had been in love with Mondonosuke. Genba conspired to cause the young swordsman's expulsion from Edo. She married this lesser man thinking he would restore her late father's languishing dojo.
Belatedly she realized her wicked husband arranged the murder of her father. He's a warped reflection of her father's good teaching & she becomes increasingly horrified by him, never forgetting he raped her the night Mondonosuke had to leave Edo.
Mondonosuke is chosen for the official contest to decide which school's finest swordsman will become shogunate fencing instructor. Young Miyamoto meanwhile goes after the dark ronin to avenge his murdered sensei.
It's a strange duel, for Yajuro has to fall to the ground in order to instigate his Ryubi style of attack, resulting in Miyamoto's arm being lopped off. For such a light "family" film this is unusually gory. As if to make up for the moment of gore, the next scene will give us comedy relief in a bathhouse.
There'll be a scene when depressed Sagenta Miyamoto learns through Mondonosuke that he can still be great fencer even with just his left arm. It's ultra corny & could only impress a kid.
The swordfights of the film are well staged. Hashizo Okawa as the title character uses a multiplicity of styles including a two-sword style against a dozen opponents successfully. There's a particularly fine action sequence with Mondonosuke against many, on an enormous stone stairway. He's assisted by the dark ronin Kijimi Yajuro himself, who has a method of beating opponents' swords right out of their hands. He wants Mondonosuke to survive so that they can eventually have their own duel.
The day of the contest at long last arrives & it's Genba vs Mondonosuke. As it's an exhibition duel it cannot be to the death, & Genba experiences only humiliation. Upon winning, Mondonosuke declines the position as shogunate instructor because he still needs to avenge his sensei against Yajuro, something not permitted if he enters the Shogun's service.
As for Genba -- corrupt, vile, & even a rapist -- he'll get his final come-uppance in his last meeting with the dark ronin. It had all along been Yajuro's intent to destroy Genba then take over the school.
It remains only for him to defeat Mondonosuke & he'll become Japan's top swordsman. That he's also interested in Genba's wife Miyo goes without saying, so she'll seek protection from Mondonosuke.
So Mondonosuke's important match in this tale will be with Yajuro of the "frightening skill." Yasuru cannot be defeated by ordinary means so Mondonosuke consults with the Kashima sect sensei Gentatsu, who teaches the doomful technique Yajuro has misused.
The Kashima sect prefers seclusion to the limelight. Gentatsu is alarmed to learn his past pupil Yajuro has turned out to be such an awful man. So Gentatsu reveals the only method of overcoming Yajuro, a strike which is guaranteed to win even if Mondonosuke dies alongside his foe.
The final duel is a brutal afair very neatly done, though in the final analysis it is once again a young adult climax that leaves us in the final moment with Hashizo's trademark toothpaste smile.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl