This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Antoine Tarrou’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
In a mad world, only the mad are sane!
That was my 7th Kurosawa and the first in color. And boy was that a blast.
The cinematography is marvelous, the use of color stunning, the costumes top tier. I’ve read about how this might me the most personal Kurosawa, which seems interesting considering this being the epic tale that it is. But I can see how Hidetora might also be a version of Kurosawa himself. A lot of his closest colleagues and friends had passed away, he presumably battle with depression and his wife died during the shooting of the movie. Hidetora, just like Kurosawa himself, is questioning the legacy he leaves behind and the meaning of it all.
Knowing all that makes the film even more daunting to me. Makes this epic feel really personal and intimate. At the same time, we mostly see wide angle shots and little no close ups, which makes us as the viewers feel pushed back into an omnipresent spectator role. So, we are observing, watching the events unfold, while also feeling detached to the actual characters, to the human being. Similar to the gods who seem to have turned their backs on humanity.
Even though some of the characters might feel 'stiff' at times, what stood out to me the most, was Lady Kaede, who is magically brought to life by Mieko Harada. For me she is not only the most tragic but also my favorite character. She is the only one that is not directly responsible for her own tragedy, for her own demise, as her family was murdered by Hidetora when she was just a child. She still is imprisoned by her own past, by her legacy, by the violence done to her that defines and shapes her present and future.
Yet still she is taking a lot of agency back into her own hands. I was rooting for her all the way, even though she seems unsympathetic at first (but again all of the characters do), since she is the only character who has a plausible motivation for the blood being shed even though she is responsible for most if it, because she is pulling the strings in the shadows, being the mastermind behind a lot of the plotting. And usually I do not like revenge plot’s all that much. But I think here there is more to it. She is not shedding blood for the sake of, she is not merely seeking for retribution and vengeance it. She is taking back control. Control over a life that has been shaped by the brutal decisions of others. She is taking back her agency.
Which for me makes it a way more legitimate reason than the motivation for all of the brothers who just want more power, more money, more influence in the realm. In the end she doesn't even seem frightened or surprised by her own death. She probably even saw it coming a mile way. This to me, again, shows that for her this whole plot was never about gaining power but about gaining agency for however brief. Also her character, as well as the blind Tsurumaru, is a constant reminder of what consequences may come off war and violence.
Another character I truly loved was the fool which was brilliantly portrayed by Shinnosuke ‘Peter’ Ikehata who or is an icon in the Japanese LQBTQ+ community.
The standout scene for me has to be the first big battle scene about an hour into the movie, which is indeed pure chaos (what the title literally translates to). Pure chaos though that is counteracted by stripping all of the sound away, underlying it with classical music instead. What we see on screen is the most brutal, the most action heavy, contrasted by relaxing and sophisticated orchestral music. This contradictory or even dialectic display of war on screen is brilliantly challenging all the heroic war narratives.
And then there is the ending, which might be the darkest ending to any Kurosawa film (or at least that I have seen so far), because it seems like there is no outcome of it all, no hope. The blind Tsurumaru standing on a cliff, forsaken by the gods, dropping the last thing that protected him. For him there is no reconciliation. He keeps wandering the earth, hoping not to fall off the next cliff. Just like the rest of us.
Men prefer sorrow over joy... suffering over peace!