The story is taken from rakugo (a traditional form of “sit-down” comedic narration), and focuses on the craftily versatile character of Saheiji (played by the great comedian, Frankie Sakai), a man-about-town who gets stuck at a high-class brothel when he can’t pay the bill. The ever-resourceful Saheiji makes the best of his situation by performing various tasks amidst the tumult of the end of the shogunate—but always by making sure to get a “commission” for his troubles. The women of the establishment start falling for this skilled player, but as with many Kawashima heroes, Saheiji is more intent on escape—from everything, it seems. Many Nikkatsu performers, including Ishihara Yûjirô, postwar Japan’s most popular male star, appear in the film. —Aaron Gerow
Yuzo Kawashima (川島雄三 Kawashima Yūzō?, 4 February 1918 – 11 June 1963) was a notable Japanese filmmaker, most famous for making tragi-comic films and satires.
Kawashima was born in Mutsu, Aomori in the Shimokita Peninsula. From his youth, he suffered from a paralysis that affected his right leg and arm. He was educated at Meiji University, where he was a member of the film study circle. He entered the Shōchiku studios in 1938 and served as an assistant director under Minoru Shibuya and Keisuke Kinoshita before directing his film, Kaette kita otoko, in 1944. At Shōchiku after the war, he made many comedies before switching to Nikkatsu in 1955, when the studio resumed film production. There he made such notable works as Ai no onimotsu (1955), Suzaki paradise: Akashingō (1956), Gurama-tō no yūwaku (1959), Kashima ari (1959), and Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (1957), which was later voted the fifth best Japanese film of all time in Kinema Junpō’s poll of 140 film critics and… read more
Set at a brothel near the sea in the cold of winter, Kawashima's irreverent take on the last days of feudal Japan is a sensational masterpiece that was voted into the top five Japanese films ever made by Kinema Junpō magazine. With script input from future director Imamura, Kawashima deserves immense credit for the choreography of a large cast on the single main set. The interaction of characters is a joy to behold..
Although far lighter in tone, in its anti-establishment spirit, deft changes in tone and skilful use of an ensemble cast, it is in many ways a sister-film to Sadao Yamanaka's pre-war masterpiece "Humanity & Paper Balloons". It is the Ukiyo put into sound and movement, and like its main character the Grifter, takes delight in making fun from the passing commotion.
No film better portrays the decline of late Edo society and the death of the samurai than this one. Kawashima's film shows us how the poverty-struck samurai exploit their hereditary position in society while rest suffers. Then the modern, educated man comes and liberates people form the samurai. Even the loyalists serve as a mere side-plot in his film, which makes this film better than all other Bakumatsu jidai-geki.
The true difference between Kawashima and all his brethren is he tells you to your face not to trust him. Even Naruse wants that much from you, merely so he can take it away. The grifter is almost Buddha in opposite, where Buddha concludes life is suffering the grifter concludes life is a few raucous good times before nothingness happens. Just be aware of that it is all nothingness.
In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2012 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.