1881 Post
San Francisco, California

At last, a thinking person’s martial arts movie. Or, in other words, a well acted, deliberately nuanced drama about the moral dilemma of a young man forced to choose between his principles and his obligation to defend the helpless. Plus a few broken heads. Trouble develops in Japan’s late Showa dynasty (1932), in the wake of that country’s invasion of Manchuria, when a company of kempeitai military police arrogantly disrupts the karate studies of three young men—Taikan (Tatsuya Naka), Giryu (Akihito Yagi) and Choei (Yuji Suzuki)—at the rural dojo of their wise old master (Shinya Ohwada). Convinced that the students’ skills can help in battle, the army wants to conscript them into service as fight instructors. Screenwriter George Iida and veteran independent filmmaker Shunichi Nagasaki (Dogs, A Tender Place) are obviously skeptical about Japanese militarism in the first place, but leave it to bashful Giryu to set things straight when the hideous army commander widens the scope of his depredations beyond able-bodied fighting men to include innocent local villagers. The fact that actual karate masters portray the three main characters guarantees that when justice prevails it looks like it actually hurts. No wires, no stunts, no elaborate sound effects. The no-frills fisticuffs are quick and brutal. Stunt coordinator Fuyuhiko Nishi’s authentic fight choreography is matched by cinematographer Masato Kaneko’s dazzling establishing shots of the lush greenery of Kyushu. The film’s true subject, though, is the moral calculus of violence, and when, if ever, it should be used.

—Kelly Vance

U.S. Premiere. Sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Hotel Kabuki.

Official Website: http://fest08.sffs.org/films/film_details.php?id=11

Added by sagemane on April 13, 2008