Seven from Edo (1958)
Directed by Sadatsugu Matsuda

Seven from Edo
O-Edo shinchininshu
Starring Utaemon Ichikawa (Katsukawa), Ryutaro Otomo (Hirahara), Chiyonosuke Azuma (Murase), Hashizo Okawa (Akizuki), Isao Yamagata (Tatewaki), Kenji Susukida (Manabe), Takashi Shimura (Sagamiya), Hiroko Sakuramachi (Ichi), Kogiku Hanayagi (Somekichi), Shinobu Chihara (Rengetsu), Hiromi Hanazono (Osen), Sentaro Fushimi (Sagara), Koinosuke Onoe (Nitta), Kyonosuke Nango (Murayama), Kunio Kaga (Kaizuka), Jun Usami (Matsuno)

Toei Company, 92 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Samurai DVD

Despite having a cast of Toei all-stars, Seven from Edo is such a forgettable movie that I always have trouble remembering what it's about, even though I've seen it several times. So for my own future reference if nothing else, here are the crib notes on this minor chambara.

A group of samurai led by the stern Katsukawa (Utaemon Ichikawa) has hired themselves out as a yojimbo squad protecting the gambling operations of the upright yakuza boss Sagayama (Takashi Shimura). Katsukawa's gang includes the hard-drinking Hirahara (Ryutaro Otomo), the hot-tempered Akizuki (Hashizo Okawa) and the widowed father Murase (Chiyonosuke Azuma). This work-for-hire arrangement is the most notable aspect of Seven from Edo, since the depiction of low-ranking samurai living in near poverty is unusual. Typically the down-on-their-luck swordsmen seen in jidai-geki films are ronin, the customary trope being that if they could only find a position serving a lord, they would have all the wealth and prestige they could desire. In this case, Katsukawa's group are gainfully employed retainers whose stipends are so meager that they have to moonlight to earn extra cash.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't explore its compelling socioeconomic ironies to any appreciable depth. It ends up following the familiar pattern of good yakuza gang vs. evil yakuza gang, with little attention being given to the novelty that the protagonist gang in this case are actual samurai. Katsukawa's men tangle with the Kijin gang, a corrupt gambling operation being covertly run by a high-ranking samurai official named Tatewaki and his cohort Lord Manabe. It also happens that Katsukawa is romantically involved with Somekichi, a geisha who had previously spurned Tatewaki's advances. So Tatewaki conspires to have Katsukawa found guilty of misconduct and banished from Edo to serve in distant Kofu. It's a safe bet that Utaemon Ichikawa had other commitments during the shooting of Seven from Edo, and the script makes it possible for him to show up only at the beginning and the end while serving as the top-billed star.

During Katsukawa's absence, the story turns to various melodramas involving the other members of "the seven." Dramas revolve around illness befalling Murase's infant son, a kabuki actor bristling under Tatewaki's patronage, and Lord Manabe's lecherous pursuit of the servant girl Ichi. In the end Katsukawa comes back to help his comrades in the inevitable sword-slinging showdown. But overall Seven from Edo has about as much bite as Kenji Susukida's toothless old Manabe. It's a snoozer.

The Jidai-Geki Knights