Masaki Kobayashi’s 1967 extraordinary study of the implacability of power—in this instance represented by the absolutism of feudal power—its lack of mercy, its destruction of opposition. It is set in 1725, in the time of the Tokugawa shogunate. It is both bleak and absorbing. In the end, skill and compassion, as the viewer must anticipate, are destroyed by technology and armed numbers. This will already be clear from the opening’s presentation of architectural absolutes.
The acting of Yoko Tsukasa, as the discarded concubine of the feudal lord, of Toshiro Mifune, as the head of the disobedient vassal family, and of Shigeru Koyama, as the austere steward of the feudal lord, is exceptional. The structure of the film makes telling use of frequent silences to punctuate the telling, the silences integrated masterfully by the influential and innovative composer Tōru Takemitsu into his score for the film.