Something of a companion film to the director's HARA KIRI of five years earlier, Masaki Kobayashi's SAMURAI REBELLION is another slow-moving yet intensely absorbing drama that indicts the Japanese feudal system in favor of the individual and the nuclear family. Toshiro Mifune plays an aging samurai who rebels against the orders of his feudal lord, even if that means he may have to sacrifice everything he holds dear. Tatsuya Nakadai has a small but important part as Mifune's closest friend.
Forced by his daiymo (the head of his clan, also known as "warlord") to take a disgraced concubine into his family, samurai Mifune finds that she brings peace, joy and happiness to his otherwise miserable home. Two years later, the daiymo insists on her return and Mifune and his son (Go Kato) take a stand that has only a one in a million shot of ending well for anybody. If you ever wondered where the modern nihilism of some of today's films comes from, where nearly every character dies, look to films like Kobayashi's HARA KIRI and SAMURAI REBELLION. The essential difference, however, is that in the Kobayashi films, such endings are far from nihilistic. There is a code of honor in place, and in order for that honor to be upheld, one must be willing to put his life on the line at any moment.
Kobayashi does not fill his films with action, nor does he include comic relief or musical interludes as Kurosawa would. Kobayashi's most beloved films are often studies in slowly-evolving circumstances, in which calm dialogue and conversation advance the plot. Yet, in this film as in HARA KIRI, the characters have such intense passion behind their unflinching facial expressions, that each scene builds upon the last. You know there is going to be an explosion of violence in the end, when one or more characters simply must let it all hang out. But the mood the director sets with his choice of shots, compositions and editing, as well as the solid performances of his stalwart actors, keep you as glued with interest in the slow buildup as you will be in the bloody conclusion. ½ - JB