Bushido, imposing a strict submission of samurai to the lords of feudal Japan, may have permeated Japanese culture.
Tokyo, early 1960s. Susumu Iikura is called by a hospital: his fiancée Kyoko has attempted suicide. On returning home, he opens the family archives recovered at the death of his mother and rereads the writings of his samurai ancestors, recounting the atrocities suffered since the 17th century, in the name of bushido, the code of honor respected by this military nobility in the service of the feudal lords who had the right of life and death over them. Could this cruel code have left traces in modern Japan?
Cruel Tales of Bushido (Bushido zankoku monogatari), golden bear at the 1964 Berlinale (ex-aequo with Il Diavolo by Gian Luigi Polidoro), is the 28th of 44 feature films directed by Tadashi Imai. Although he won numerous awards and is seen as an important Japanese filmmaker of the 1950s and 1960s, two of his films were selected at Cannes, including Kome in 1957 for the Palme d’Oronly one of his creations appeared in our video catalogs,
Yuki, the secret of the magic mountain (Yuki1981), a late work very unrepresentative of his filmography.
Cruel Tales of Bushido, the adaptation of an original story by Yoshikata Yoda, screenwriter of twenty films by Kenji Mizoguchi, begins and ends in 1960s Japan. It takes us from the beginning of the 17th century to the Second World War by forming a time loop in which unfolds, over seven generations, the story of the men of the Iikura family who have experienced the rigors of bushido. They are all played by the same actor, Kinnosuke Nakamura, holder of the title role of Tomu Uchida’s six-film sequel, available in the box set.
Miyamoto Musashi by Tomu Uchida – The Completepublished by Wild Side in 2015.
The life of samurai belongs to the lord and to die for him is an honor
Cruel Tales of Bushido adds to the quality of its photography, making good use of the width of the 2.35:1 frame, and the adequacy of the original music by Toshirô Mayuzumi, one of Japan’s greatest composers of film music (he will receive a Oscar for The Bible/ The Bible: In the Beginning… , John Huston, 1966), a humanist approach to his theme. He very openly emphasizes that bushido was, above all, an instrument at the service of the holders of power in feudal Japan to better dominate the weak, whom he pushed to honor themselves by obeying all orders without question, even by immolant by harakiri (seppuku) to accompany in death the master to whom they had sworn loyalty. Tadashi Imai forces the line by showing, in the last two tales, the survival of the principles of bushido, not only with the disappearance of feudalism, but, well beyond, with the reform of the Meiji era implemented in 1868 This survival could even explain Kyoko’s desperate gesture.
Cruel Tales of Bushido is offered to us after 4K restoration carried out in 2020 from the original 35mm negative. This is the first Blu-ray edition ever released, still not found elsewhere, even in Japan.
Cruel Tales of Bushido (123 minutes) and its supplements (15 minutes) fit on a Blu-ray BD-50 housed in a 14 mm box, slipped into a sheath.
The fixed and musical menu offers the film in its original version, in Japanese, with optional subtitles, and the choice between two audio formats, DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 or 1.0.
A DVD edition offers the same content.
Tadashi Imai, the filmmaker on the side of the weak(12′, Allerton Films, 2022, in French) by Professor Futoshi Koga, film historian at Nihon University – College of Art in Tokyo. Little known to the general public in Japan, but appreciated by critics, Tadashi Imai, born in 1912, very left-wing, very sensitive to the atmosphere of the moment, belongs to the second generation of Japanese filmmakers, that of Akira Kurosawa, preceded by that of Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujirô Ozu and Sadao Yamanaka. He lived his golden age in the 1950s until the beginning of the 1960s, making several critically acclaimed films, including
When we meet again (Mata at hi made1950), the adaptation of Romain Rolland’s novel, Pierre and Luce. Cruel Tales of Bushido is his last major film, emblematic of the support for the weakest that permeates his work. Bushido, based on Buddhism and Shintoism, advocates strict respect for several principles: rectitude and justice (Gi), courage (Yu), benevolence and humanism (Jin), politeness (Rei), truthfulness and sincerity (Makoto), honor (Meiyo) and loyalty (Chugi), which the powerful imposed on the poor, as underlined
Hara-kiri (Seppuku, Masaki Kobayashi, 1962). Tadashi Imai is between the great masters and the turn of the 60s driven by Nagasi Oshima and Shôhei Imamura. The juxtaposition of the past with the present is certainly an idea of Yoshikata Yoda, screenwriter of Kenji Mizoguchi.
Original trailer (3′).
The image (2.35:1, 1080p, AVC), restored in 2020, carefully cleaned, stabilized, finely resolved, is pleasantly contrasted, with dense blacks and a well-calibrated grayscale, but whites which would have benefited from being more bright in some shots. We can also note a very strong reduction in the grain, which has managed to stay on the right side of the yellow line that can only be crossed at the cost of a distortion of the texture of the 35 mm.
The original mono sound, of an astonishing cleanness, without breath, ensures a perfect balance between the dialogues and the musical accompaniment. It comes in two formats, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 and a 3.0 remix which essentially expands the musical accompaniment.
Image credits: © 1963 TOEI COMPANY, LTD. All rights reserved.
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DVDFr | Cruel Tales of Bushido: The Complete Blu-ray Review