STUDIO: Toei Company, Ltd
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers, Program Notes, Bios, Image Gallery, Exclusive Essay
350 Years… 7 Generations… 7 Roles… 1 ACTOR
Writers: Norio NANJO, Naoyuki SUZUKI, Yoshikata YODA.
Director: Tadashi IMAI.
Actors: Kinnosuke NAKAMURA, Eijiro TONO, Kyoko KISHIDA, Masayuki MORI, Shinjiro EBARA
“The sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons.” There are many variations of this quote, but the meaning is always the same. The idea is that the gods, or God, will punish a guilty man’s future generations even though they may be innocent. Shakespeare used a version of this line in The Merchant of Venice, and in a way Bushido is a Shakespearian tragedy play. Unfortunately, Bushido is more melodrama than emotionally gripping, more tedious than interesting.
The story begins with Susumu, a 1960s modern day Japanese businessman rushing to the hospital to visit his fiancé, who has attempted suicide. He immediately begins narrating the history of his family, recounting the various terrible things that his Samurai ancestors wrought upon themselves and their families, all for the sake of honoring their Lords. I’d rather not ruin the whole movie, but the moral of the story, I think, is that one should put oneself and one’s family first, and not sacrifice their well being for some crooked government or a half-baked code of honor.
“Because I have a rectal thermometer that I’ve just been dying to use!”
Kinnosuke NAKAMURA plays the father of each generation with strength and believability. There are a couple of times that he is unrecognizable, partly because of the make-up used, but mostly because of his performance (each of my images are each generation). Everyone else is uninteresting, which makes the experience that much more difficult to get through. All of the women are useless, which I guess is kind of the point – the patriarchal history of Japanese society has always been incredibly misogynistic, and Bushido repeatedly pounds that point into the audience’s head.
Every generation in the movie involves the Samurai forsaking his wife and child(ren) in order to honor his Lord, and this involves the woman or daughter being ignored, used, killed and a couple of times even raped. And because the women have no power in the society, they’re forced to just take it and cry about it. The result is, as I said before, something more melodramatic than emotionally gripping.
By the end of the film, I found myself uninterested in the outcome of the narrator and his fiancé, and it doesn’t help that the finale is so abrupt and unsatisfying.
I can’t help but wonder how my view of the film may be a result of being born in 1983, and the culture I’ve grown up in. I really try to keep in mind whenever I watch an older film of when it was made and where it came from. Bushido won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1963, and while I’m not mad at the movie, I’m not fond of it, and I definitely don’t think it’s best film quality. I find myself more interested in the ideas and themes than the actual execution. For fans of Jidaigeki films, it’s worth a viewing. However, I can’t really recommend it to anyone else.
The picture quality varies – I’m not sure if it’s the transfer, or simply not very good cinematography, but the contrast can be very flat from time to time. The sound is fine. You can decide to watch the subtitles in Yellow, or White; and they can either be dialogue only, or include bits of contextual information. There are a few trailers, talent bios and an image gallery. The most interesting thing about the features include a series of Program Notes that help the viewer to understand the historical context, and an essay by film historian Randy Schadel, describing the history of the Bushido Code.