Hunter in the Dark (1979)
Directed by Hideo Gosha

Hunter in the Dark
Yami no karyudo
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai (Gomyo), Sonny Chiba (Shimoguni), Yoshio Harada (Tanigawa), Ayumi Ishida (Oriwa), Keiko Kishi (Omon), Ai Kanzaki (Osaki), Kayo Matsuo (Oren), Tetsuro Tamba (Tanuma), Koji Yakusho (Kuwano)
Screenplay by Hideo Gosha
Music by Masaru Sato

Shochiku, 137 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope
English-subtitled DVD: Samurai DVD

Gosha's Hunter in the Dark is a 137-minute exercise in frustration. Even after seeing the movie about three times and using Patrick Galloway's helpful breakdown in Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves as Cliff's Notes, I still have no idea what the heck's going on. There must be a good movie in there somewhere, but I feel like the "hunter in the dark" is me trying to find it.

What I can figure is that it's a yakuza movie set in the Tokugawa era concerning three main characters. Tatsuya Nakadai portrays a slick crime lord named Gomyo who has more of a core of humanity and compassion than the typical stone-cold Nakadai yakuza boss. The legendary Sonny Chiba co-stars as Shimoguni, a tough customer who harbors an idealistic dream of retiring to the idyllic wilderness of Ezo (modern-day Hokkaido). The shogun's corrupt prime minister has promised to appoint Shimoguni the governor of Ezo if he carries out some dirty deeds. Complicating things is a key third figure, a one-eyed ronin named Tanigawa who suffers from amnesia. Serving as Gomyo's loyal yojimbo, Tanigawa has to face his forgotten past which involves dark entanglements with Shimoguni.

There's also a supporting cast big enough to choke a Tolstoy novel, including a bunch of women who are in love with and/or want to kill a number of male characters for various reasons. I couldn't even attempt to explain all that stuff. Hunter in the Dark bears some basic similarities to Gosha's Kumokiri Nizaemon. in tone, content and Byzantine plot structure, but whereas the excellent preceding film reached a point about a third of the way through when everything popped into focus, this one never clicks for me. Maybe I'm just too dumb to get it.

The two most memorable (and comprehensible) scenes are one-on-one encounters between Gomyo and Shimoguni. That's only fitting, since this is the only film Tatsuya Nakadai and Sonny Chiba ever made together. The first scene is a diplomatic summit where the two yazuka chiefs come together to hash things out. They walk and talk amidst a gallery of hanging tapestries illustrated with kabuki-style samurai caricatures. It's a vividly colorful setting with the oversized demonic drawings seeming to leer at Gomyo and Shimoguni in judgment.

But best of all is their big final confrontation that's positively dripping with apocalyptic Sergio Leone atmosphere. It's a hell of a finale, sort of a two-man variation on the ending of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly fought with swords in a chicken coop. Oddly enough, this isn't Nakadai's only poultry-related chambara incident -- see also Kihachi Okamoto's Kill!. As a matter of fact, unless you're a total Hideo Gosha or Sonny Chiba fanatic, just skip Hunter in the Dark and go watch that movie instead.

The Jidai-Geki Knights