Film Reviews

Revenge (1964) – Blu-ray Review

There have been plenty of samurai movies over the years, from epics such as Ran and Yojimbo to lavish Hollywood affairs like The Last Samurai. Few of these films, however, look at Samurai and the code of Bushido in the same way as Tadashi Imai’s Adauchi aka Revenge or Vendetta (depending on your particular translation). Made in 1964 for Toei studios and filmed in black and white, this film sets out to instead shine a light on the failings of the feudal system and the ridiculous lengths that some men will go to in defending their ‘honour’.

Falling into that niche of movies known as zankoku or cruel jidaigeki, these are films that are downbeat and gritty, usually filmed in black and white, and featuring a variety of nihilist anti-heroes and doomed individuals. Revenge features the latter of these. A guard by the name of Shinpachi Ezaki (Kinnosuke Nakamura – Death of a Tea Master, Kozure Ôkami) ends up fighting an illegal duel with a samurai from a rival clan following a disagreement over whether or not Shinpachi’s men were properly tending to their weapons.

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From here things spiral rapidly out of control, with the rival clan refusing to let things lie. Even banishing Shinpachi to a monastery isn’t enough to satisfy their need for ‘justice’, to satisfy their vendetta and, as might be expected, things eventually climax in an orgy of blood and violence that leaves both clans forever damaged by their need to defend their position.

As a main character, Shinpachi is an interesting choice. He’s no square-jawed, upstanding paragon of justice. He’s just a man, a little bit cowardly at times when confronted with the possibility of his own death, but wouldn’t we all be? He seems constantly on the edge of breakdown, his eyes wild and staring, constantly bemused by how his life has suddenly collapsed around his shoulders.

He isn’t helped by the people around him who keep trying to tell him what he should do, from his elder brother who claims that he’s gone insane, to the monk at the monastery who thinks he’s little better than a murderer, to the officials who won’t listen to him when he tries to explain his side of things. But the truth is that his fate was sealed the moment he raised his voice to the samurai, and everything that follows has an air of sullen inevitability.

This release from Eureka Entertainment comes to us on Blu-ray and offers a new 2K restoration of the original film that looks great. In terms of presentation there’s nothing to complain about. It is, however, a little light on special features, and even lighter on language options. No English dub here, no sir! You can watch the movie in Japanese, or Japanese with subtitles. That’s your lot.

Feature-wise there’s a 22 minute long interview with Tony Rayns, where he looks into director Tadashi Imai’s background and politics as well as describing what Japan was like at the time the film is set, providing some much-needed context for folks not familiar with this time period or this type of film. The other offering is ‘The Enemy Within – Power and Politics in the Films of Tadashi Imai’ by Jasper Sharp, which looks at Imai’s career as a whole, examining the various themes and politics of his filmography.

There’s also a collectors’ booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes, who looks into the politics and history of samurai films, as well as the history of real life samurai, explaining the bushido code and what it was used for, among other things. While all three pieces of extra content cover similar themes, each focuses on different aspects, making each worth checking out.

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Is Revenge a film that everyone should watch? No, but it should find an audience among those who favour that grindhouse/exploitation style of Western filmmaking, as long as they can overcome that one inch barrier of being forced to read subtitles. Or learn Japanese.

Revenge is out on Blu-ray on 19th June from Eureka Entertainement.

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