Media Blasters // 1969 // 124 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 11th, 2006
A young samurai returns to his home and discovers a higher calling...revenge.
The work of director Hideo Gosha exemplifies the benefits of the fairly rigid journeyman system in place during the golden age of Japanese cinema. Aspiring filmmakers in postwar Japan didn't go to film school, or get their hands on 16mm cameras and gather together friends to act as their casts and crews: They apprenticed under established directors. Their on-the-job training included active participation in cinematography, screenwriting, film and sound editing, and directing actors. Though this system represented a long (and sometimes stultifying) road of corporate ladder-climbing for inspired artists, it had a mostly positive impact on the Japanese film industry as a whole. Even middling directors like Gosha were capable of delivering tightly structured, artfully shot program pictures. Gosha's 1969 actioner, Goyokin, is a case in point.
In 1831, a young woman named Oriha (Ruriko Asaoka, Incident at Blood Pass) returns to her home in the fishing village of Kurosaki after five years of indentured servitude. She discovers that all of her people, including her fiancé, have fallen victim to a Kamikakushi, or mysterious disappearance.
Three years later, a jaded ronin named Magobei Wakisaka (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran) is working festivals as a fast-draw sideshow act. Formerly a retainer in the Sabai Domain, he left his position because of his clan's involvement in the destruction of Kurosaki. Tatewaki Rukogo (Tetsuro Tamba, You Only Live Twice), the clan's chief retainer and Magobei's brother-in-law, ordered the Kamikakushi in order to cover up the samurais' theft of goyokin (gold belonging to the Tokugawa Bakufu) lost in a shipwreck just off the shores of the village. Magobei's sense of guilt increases when he meets Oriha on the road and hears her story. Since the destruction of her people, she's hardened into a cynical gambler and dice cheat.
When Magobei learns that Rukogo is planning a new Kamikakushi, he decides to return to Sabai and make amends for not reporting his clan to the Bakufu. He will confront Rukogo and thwart his plan. Along the way, he forms an alliance with a seemingly greedy and underhanded ronin named Samon Fujimaki (Kinnosuke Nakamura, Yagyu Clan Conspiracy).
Goyokin bears more than a passing resemblance to Hideo Gosha's earlier film, Sword of the Beast (released on DVD by the Criterion Collection as part of their Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics boxed set). Both films have a firm footing in the anti-authoritarian zeitgeist of Japanese cinema during the the 1960s. They share plots concerning purloined Shogunate gold, disaffected ronin abused by their loyalty to clan, morally-compromised women, and greedy power mongers for whom Bushido is less a code of honor than a scheme for protecting their own privileged positions.
Though essentially a rehash of Beast (with a slightly less convoluted, and therefore less compelling, plot), Goyokin occupies the more favored position in Gosha's oeuvre (only his debut, Three Outlaw Samurai, is more famous). Its reputation benefits from the movie star power of both Tatsuya Nakadai and Tetsuro Tamba. In the 1960s, Nakadai owned characters like Magobei -- sullen ronin beaten down by life and lacking the stoic joie de vivre of similar characters brought to the screen by superstar Toshiro Mifune (Yojimbo). Every aspect of Nakadai's performance in Goyokin is richer, subtler, and more enjoyable than Mikijiro Hira's parallel performance in Sword of the Beast.
Tetsuro Tamba was no great thespian, but his squared, handsome face and deep voice exuded a believable authority that won him numerous roles as clan leaders and heavies. That winning combination is most likely the reason he was chosen from a surplus of solid Japanese actors to play Tiger Tanaka in the James Bond adventure, You Only Live Twice. In Goyokin, Tamba shares little screen time with Nakadai. But when they duel in the final reel, Gosha fashions some stylish compositions that drip with narrative tension. The fight's snowy tableau is a pretty finale for Gosha's winter bound tale of Magobei's discontent.
Goyokin arrives on DVD courtesy of Media Blaster's Tokyo Shock label. The disc's transfer comes from source materials that appear unrestored but in great shape. After a rough and grainy opening credits sequence, the picture shows little evidence of wear and tear, though minor nicks and scratches are common throughout. Colors are bold if a bit oversaturated. Detail is lost in some of the darker scenes, which drift into a muddy appearance. Overall, the image is solid, though. The presentation is 2.35:1 anamorphically-enhanced widescreen.
The two-channel presentation of the film's original Japanese mono track is clear even if it isn't crisp. Source limitations abound, but the track is mostly free of annoying hiss, crackle, and other age-related flaws.
The only supplement is a trailer for the film.
Hideo Gosha may not be among the most renowned of Japanese filmmakers, but he's a capable (and often artful) craftsman in genre entertainment. Being one of his most famous films, Goyokin deserved better than a barebones release. But Media Blaster's presentation still looks and sounds good enough to please fans of samurai flicks.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated