In this epic samurai drama, multiple generations of men from a family of humble farmers seek glory on the battlefield, sire children, grow old, pass on—and the cycle repeats, steady as the current of the river, rhythmic as the ringing of a bell. A shovel thuds against the rocky soil as a mourning son buries his father. In a neighbor’s shack, a newborn baby cries out for the first time. Life. Death. Rebirth.
Director Keisuke Kinoshita frames the action beautifully, but I found myself questioning his somewhat distracting use of color. While he shoots primarily in black-and-white, with the occasional colored tint to convey a particular emotion or theme (blue=death, red=violence), streaks of red, yellow, green, and purple frequently paint the screen—sometimes in the vicinity of some significant object (a distant fire, a cold corpse), but just as often seemingly at random. This works during the chaotic scenes of warfare and when Kinoshita uses still images to progress the story, but because the colorful smudges remain fixed in the frame, the effect is ruined as soon as the camera moves—and Kinoshita really likes camera movement. No wonder Kurosawa decided against using a similar technique in Sanjuro.
Overall, though, this minor blemish did little to diminish my enjoyment of Kinoshita’s ambitious jidai-geki classic.