Just got done watching the Mikogami trilogy on DVD, ordered from my local Barnes & Noble. This is a fairly obscure chanbara/jidaigeki (whichever) about an ex-gangster wandering around trying to kill three bosses responsible for the deaths of his family when he tried to go straight. The star, Yoshio Harada, is pretty much my poster child for that sort of wild-haired, long side-burned anti-hero that is so prevalent in 70’s exploitation films from Japan….only he’s in a period film countryside as opposed to hip, urban Tokyo. In the eighties he would star with Shintaro (Zatoichi) Katsu in Katsu’s last period film, Roningai.
I enjoyed the films a lot, with the last one being particularly good. The ending was rather unresolved or obscure but not in a bad way, to me. These films aren’t going to topple Lone Wolf and Cub from their lofty place as the best of the exploitation-tilted samurai films, but they were worth the money.
There is a certain sense of artistry and a command of cinematic techniques that films from other asian countries working in similar genres just don’t seem to match. I love the kung fu film output of the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest and all the rest, but cinematically, they just aren’t in the same league as analagous films from Japan. That isn’t to say Japanese films don’t have their drawbacks. And their cinematic culture is nowhere near as dynamic in many ways as that of Hong Kong, or even Thailand and Korea right now.
Samurai films are making something of a comeback currently, but these tend to be quieter studies about the feudal lifestyle, and the hard choices faced by peaceful men in a warrior society. The Mikogami trilogy comes from an era of much louder, more forceful ‘samurai’ film, though there are hardly any literal samurai in it.