Tuesday, 15 June 2010

GHOST OF HANGING IN UTSUNOMIYA (JAPAN/1956/NOBUO NAKAGAWA)

Ryutaro is a spy employed by the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, who is the target of assassination attempts that aim to hand power over to his younger brother Tadanaga. Before learning of these plots, Ryutaro discovers himself in a predicament of his own when he rushes to the defence of a local girl who is caught between her boyfriend and a greedy businessman. The situation results in many violent one-on-one skirmishes between Ryutaro and the businessman’s many samurai defendants, one of whom enigmatically refuses to reveal his face or use more than just the one hand. Before long, Ryutaro’s top priority is not protecting Iemitsu as it should be, but rather unearthing the true identity of the mystery samurai.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa is well known for mixing the supernatural with diverse genres of film, and in Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya, he does a sublime job of giving the chanbara (or samurai) genre a much-needed boost. While it may not be as subversive a work as some of its contemporaries, the film has a wonderfully simple premise, and Nakagawa uses the time to reinforce Ryutaro’s story with some colourful characters. With his bizarre hood and penchant for spinning walnuts in his fingers, the unnamed samurai walks the line between clown and sinister threat, and the scene where he reveals his true face is unusually tense. It may not be for everyone, but Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya is a brilliant mix of history and the ethereal, making for great evening viewing.





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