Daredevil in the Castle (1961)
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Daredevil in the Castle
Osaka jo monogatari
Starring Toshiro Mifune (Mohei), Kyoko Kagawa (Ai), Yuriko Hoshi (Princess Sen), Yoshiko Kuga (Kobue), Isuzu Yamada (Lady Yodo), Akihiko Hirata (Hayato), Takashi Shimura (Katagiri), Tetsuro Tamba (Ishikawa), Seizaburo Kawazu (Harunaga Ono), Jun Tazaki
Screenplay by Hiroshi Inagaki and Takeshi Kimura

Toho Company, 95 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

After I fell in love with my favorite Hiroshi Inagaki film, Whirlwind, I immediately set out to find Daredevil in the Castle, because I'd seen Whirlwind described as its sequel. Anticipating the backstory of Toshiro Mifune's Akashi character and his romance with Kozato's aunt before she became a nun, I was set up for disappointment when it turned out that the movies aren't really related. It's just that Daredevil in the Castle ends with the historic fall of Osaka Castle and that's the battle where Whirlwind opens. Other than that, the characters are all different, and the only common link is Mifune – playing two totally separate roles.

But that's okay, because Daredevil in the Castle is still pretty good. The story involves the aftermath of the legendary battle of Sekigahara, the big showdown between the Tokugawa and the Toyotomi that preceded the long era of Tokugawa rule. But the Toyotomi are still hanging in there as this movie opens, clinging to their clan's remnants in their base at Osaka Castle. Lady Yodo of the Toyotomi (prestigious actress Izuzu Yamada making a rare appearance in a "lowbrow" chambara film) wants to go back to war because she feels the Tokugawa aren't treating them with proper respect. They know they're probably doomed, but Osaka Castle is going down fighting instead of suffering dishonor. Yodo questions the loyalties of Toyotomi Princess Sen because her father is Ieyasu Tokugawa and her husband is Hideyori Toyotomi, so Sen gets confined to her quarters like a prisoner.

With war brewing, the local townspeople are stirred into a patriotic frenzy of revenge for Sekigahara and the merchants are licking their chops over the profits to be made in weapons and armor. Mifune strolls into town and introduces himself as Mohei the Demon, a typical hellraising Mifune character kicking up dust and getting in trouble. After his family was killed in the Sekigahara conflict, he's looking for work and fresh start. The sight of war profiteers sends Mohei into such a rage that the townspeople tie him up and dangle him from a bridge. A passing stranger named Kirigakure frees Mohei and he's taken in by Ai, a lady from Osaka Castle.

Ai belongs to a group within the Toyotomi who are working to prevent the war, led by a blind woman named Kobue. Another member of the group is a swordsman named Susukida, who happens to be Mohei's long-lost foster brother. These conspirators have a plan to abduct Princess Sen and use her as leverage in peace negotiations, since she is valued by both the Tokugawa and the Toyotomi. Actually, group has all kinds of crazy plans that are difficult to keep track of, and it doesn't help that the actresses playing Sen and Kobue look so similar that I get confused as to which is the blind mastermind and which is the one everyone wants to kidnap. Plus there a double-dealing arms merchant trading Portuguese guns, a bloodthirsty Tokugawa agent, and a big summit meeting with lots of clan leaders talking politics, so it's very easy to lose the plot here.

The saving grace is that Mohei doesn't really know everything that's going on, either. Ai sends him on missions without fully explaining their objectives, so we can just follow along and watch Mohei kick ass. And there is no shortage of great fight scenes. The mysterious Kirigakure who helps Mohei early on turns out to be a ninja, and he teams up with Mohei for a number of colorful scuffles.

Daredevil in the Castle isn't one of Inagaki's best, but it delivers some classic Inagaki moments. An early scene centers around one of Inagaki's most ambitious low-tech special effects: a gigantic 50-foot Buddha statue at Hoko Temple. It's actually a small model composited in with bluescreen, but not content to show the statue static in the backgroud, Inagaki uses a proto-matchmoving technique to simulate a panning crane shot. In another of his eccentricities, he uses animated maps to show the movement of troops around Osaka Castle, though all the doohickeys swarming around are quite incomprehensible. And reflecting Inagaki's love of old-time Hollywood style, there's a climactic set piece involving a bridge and a cart full of gunpowder than could have come straight out of a John Wayne war movie.

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