China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Thailand, etc.
After about 250 years of peace in Japan, samurai warriors in the mid-19th century were impoverished. Consequently, many left their masters to become wandering ronin. Mokunoshin Tsuzuki is one such samurai. To maintain his swordsmanship skills, Mokunoshin spars daily with Ichisuke, a farmer's son. Ichisuke's sister Yu watches them train with a hint of disapproval although there's an unspoken attraction between her and Mokunoshin. While farm life is peaceful, there is monumental turmoil in Japan. The US Navy has sent Commodore Perry to Japan to insist that it trades with them. This in turn causes civil unrest. Yu is concerned as she senses that Mokunoshin will soon leave to join the impending civil war, and consequently die. One day the three of them come across two dueling samurai. The winner is Jirozaemon Sawamura, a mild-mannered yet skillful ronin. Sawamura stays in the village to look for other potential warriors when a group of outlaw ronin arrives. The villagers have heard terrifying rumors about the outlaw's leader, Sezaemon Genda. When the hot-blooded Ichisuke takes on the outlaws, the direction of their lives drastically changes.
Comes out November 24th.
Got the chance to see this on Thursday, a mere three weeks after its world premiere at Venice. I'm pretty sure it was my first theatrical Tsukamoto, too. The film is probably my favorite among his most recent output. It's very obvious that it was shot on the same digital equipment as his last couple of films and it also must have been a fairly low budget affair. There's a swordsplay training scene early on where the digital slickness combined with the shakycam handheld camerawork reminded me of a YouTube video and I was getting worried but I settled into the film after that and it didn't bother me much anymore. The acting is fine all across the board, with Sosuke Ikematsu (Love's Whirlpool) as a young samurai, Yu Aoi (Shunji Iwai's Vampire) as the strong, independent young woman who likes to punch men and an unrecognizeable, bearded Shinya Tsukamoto as an older samurai trying to put together a group of fighters while occasionally looking like he's morphing into Jinpachi Nezu. The main conflict stems from a group of ronin taking up camp outside the little village these three occupy and with Tsukamoto shooting these guys like monsters from a horror film - all of them dirty, greasy, dreadlocked and scarred - it's obvious that things won't go well for long. The real standout for me was the score by the late Chu Ishikawa. It isn't used a lot, probably for no more than 5 minutes out of the 80 minutes runtime, but when it comes up it comes up loud and fast and powerful and hits the point home. It may well be Ishikawa's best work for Tsukamoto since GEMINI and one can only feel sorry for whoever will be tasked with replacing him on Tsukamoto's next film.