Rise Against the Sword (1966)
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Rise Against the Sword
Abare Goemon
Starring Toshiro Mifune (Abare Goemon), Nobuko Otowa (Osasa), Ryo Tamura (Hayato), Makoto Sato (Yatota), Yuriko Hoshi (Azusa), Akihiko Hirata (Asakura), Mayumi Ozora (Ayame), Daisuke Kato (Hattori)
Screenplay by Masato Ide and Hiroshi Inagaki

Toho Company, 101 minutes
B&W, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Rise Against the Sword stars Toshiro Mifune as Goemon, the leader of the Shinobu farmer clan fighting to keep their independence from daimyo that are taking over all the local villages. Quite unlike the hapless victims in Seven Samurai, these kick-ass warrior farmers have no need to hire ronin to defend them. In fact, Goemon utterly despises all samurai, calling them evil demons that can never be trusted.

The story opens with Goemon's younger brothers Yatota and Hayato returning home to Shinobu after being held hostage at the enemy Enjoji Castle for eight years. Rather than welcoming his long-lost siblings with open affection, Goemon wrestles them to the ground and calls them wimps. He's clearly delighted to see them, but he's only comfortable expressing himself in ruggedly masculine ways, being the consummate alpha male. Goemon does a hilarious dance at the clan's celebration for his returned brothers, holding a sheathed sword behind him and sticking it between his legs to simulate a giant erection. Anything that threatens his masculinity is a major problem for Goemon. For instance, it troubles him that his wife has yet to bear him a child, when he sees all the pregnant women and kids running around the village.

The brothers Yatota and Hayato find themselves wound up in a pair of of Romeo and Juliet romances. The idealistic Hayato fell in love with Princess Asuza from a rival clan, who was also being held hostage at Enjoji. Now that they've been released and gone back to their respective homes, Hayato has to face the cruel reality that social rank will prevent them from being together again. Meanwhile, Yatota has taken a shine to a Shinobu village girl Ayame – but Goemon forbids their courtship because he says she's not good enough for his brother. Goemon calls Ayame an opportunistic thief, and we later learn that she was the abandoned illegitimate child of a war deserter, so Goemon hates her for the "dirty samurai blood" in her veins. Thus we have the unusual situation of two relationships being star-crossed because the women are each daughters of samurai, and the social prejudice runs in opposite directions.

A larger conflict erupts when the warlord Asakura proposes a truce to the alliance of seven farmer clans that Shinobu belongs to. The fighting farmers are a thorn in Asakura's side, and he has come to respect what a capable leader Goemon is. So he invites the seven clans to join him against the Enjoji, offering a load of gold to sweeten the deal. All the clan leaders are ready to get on board except for Goemon, who warns that Asakura will tax and exploit them all to death, destroying the freedom they've fought to protect. But he can't persuade them to reject Asakura's promises of riches, and the other six clans join up without the Shinobu.

This puts Goemon in a terribly uncomfortable predicament. While all the other clans ride off to conquer Enjoji, Goemon and his men and left sitting idle at home. Many in the village welcome the peaceful respite, but it's torture for Goemon. His wild masculine spirit can't handle hanging around the house watching his wife do her chores. Goemon is further tormented by a mysterious two-faced ronin named Hattori (Mifune's fellow Seven Samurai member Daisuke Kato) who works to goad Goemon into taking a side and getting into the battle, where he belongs. Between Goemon's restlessness and his brothers' frustrated romantic longings, all three men find that they were happier being away at war and in captivity than they are living in peace at home.

Ultimately, Asakura exploits Hayato's love for Princess Asuza to recruit him to his side, with the promise that they will now be reunited and Hayato will have the rank to be with her. Hayato ends up being a pawn in Asakura's scheme to trick Goemon and crush Shinobu, and the showdown of brother against brother is heartbreaking.

Hiroshi Inagaki is well renowned for the expressive use of color in his films, and Rise Against the Sword only one of his rare late-period films shot in black and white. It's especially odd since Inagaki was an early adopter of color, filming the Samurai trilogy in the mid-'50s when other jidai-geki were all in black and white, and Rise Against the Sword arrived at the late date of 1966. Maybe it was a budgetary consideration, but the look of monochromatic stock perfectly suits the mood of the story and reflects Goemon's stern moral outlook. Some have suggested that Inagaki may have chosen black and white deliberately to play up his inversion of the Seven Samurai story, but I don't know. That may just be American film geeks jumping to conclusions.

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