The story is taken from rakugo (a traditional form of “sit-down” comedic narration), and focuses on the craftily versatile character of Saheiji, a man-about-town who gets stuck at a high-class brothel when he can’t pay the bill.
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Maestro magician, prestidigitator of panache, Kawashima conjures a freewheeling farce of felicitous finesse in a bawdy bordello. Wiith lustrous lighting, consummate choreography and composition, 'tis a coruscating concoction of concuspicent cavortings, pissing and politicking in turbulent times- and for our company a cast of cute combative courtesans, seditious scheming samurai and a jovial japing drifter-grifter.
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.
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 wondrous to see..
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.