Knightly Advice (1962)
Directed by Sadatsugu Matsuda

Knightly Advice
Tenka no Goiken Ban
Starring Ryunosuke Tsukigata (Okubo), Cheizo Kataoka (Lord Izu), Utaemon Ichikawa (The Shogun's Secretary), Satomi Oka (Miss Yu), Isao Yamagata (Samezu), Kinya Kitaoji (Shogun Iemitsu), Hiroki Matsukata (Tasuke), Kenji Susukida (Kinai), Sonomi Nakajima (Naka)

Toei Company, 92 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi, Samurai DVD (TV broadcast quality)

Knightly Advice is an engrossing drama about political infighting in the early years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, based on a true historical incident in the year 1629. The conflict arises from inequality between the shogun's retainers (or knights) and the daimyo lords. During the time of the first shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa, the knights enjoyed comparable standing with the daimyo. But by the time of the third shogun, the protocol has changed and the knights have had their stature diminished. Animosity is festering between the two groups, with the daimyo looking down their noses at the knights, and the knights insulting the daimyo by calling them "non-liege lords."

On January 2, 1629, as nobility are gathering at the Edo castle, Lord Inaba grows impatient as a procession of knights blocks his path and he orders his men to charge past them. One of the chief knights, Samezu, takes offense and accosts Lord Inaba for his disrespect. Telling Inaba that he stinks and needs to take a bath, Samezu single-handedly lifts up the palanquin that the lord is riding in and dumps it off the bridge into the castle's moat! Now that's a daring deed I don't recall ever seeing in a jidai-geki movie before.

Normally, a samurai committing such an outrageous act against a higher-ranking official would be shortly committing seppuku, if not summarily executed. But in this case, the Shogunate leaders recognize the powder keg of emotions between the lords and knights and want to keep the peace. So they rule that both Inaba and Samezu were at fault and sentence them each to three days house arrest. The knights are satisfied with the decision until it turns out to be a lie -- Samezu is actually punished far more severely after Inaba walks free. On top of that, the knights are now prohibited from riding to the castle in palanquins, forced to approach on foot instead.

At this point the true protagonist of the story emerges. It's not Samezu, but Okubo, the shogun's advisor and a sort of senior representative for the knights who has served the Shogunate from the beginning under Ieyasu. Okubo is a key figure in the legend of Isshin Tasuke, the folk hero fishmonger featured in a popular Toei series starring Kinnosuke Nakamura. Ryunosuke Tsukigata actually played Okubu in those films as well, making this a reprise of a familar role. Tasuke puts in a supporting appearance here as one of Okubo's vassals, played by Hiroki Matsukata.

Okubo intends to prevail on Shogun Iemitsu to show clemency to Samezu and restore a more equitable level of status to the knights. Another senior councilor, Lord Izu, intervenes and warns Okubo to be cautious with his advice. Every time he criticizes or question the young Shogun's judgment, Iza says, Okubo is undermining Iemitsu's ability to lead.

While he's wrestling with this knotty dilemma, Okubo gets another unexpected complication dropped in his lap. Miss Yu, the pretty young daughter of a merchant who was Okubo's close friend, shows up at Okubo's doorstep an announces that she wants to marry him. She has not been able to find an acceptable suitor and has reasoned that her father's old friend (and let's stress the old) would make an ideal match for her. Okubo laughs her off and says he doesn't have time right now for such foolishness. But it turns out that Yu is extremely clever and valuable in his present predicament. She comes up with the idea that the knights should ride to the castle being carried in washtubs, like convertible-top palaquins, which makes for a hilarious spectacle of civil protest.

Later the Shogunate attempts to squelch Okubo's rebellion by granting him a new responsibility as the keeper of the castle's Third Gate. Though it seems like an honor, the position requires personal expenditures that are calculated to bankrupt Okubo -- but the wealthy Miss Yu steps in as his secret benefactor. Okubo treats his new duty with grave seriousness, going back to the full martial style of castle guarding that has been abandoned since the Tokugawas brought peace. He even goes to the lengths of using a cannon to issue a spectacular denunciation against Lord Inaba.

Knightly Advice is an intelligent and well-scripted film that dissects the shogunate's hypocrisy with vivid flair. The character of Miss Yu, played by the exuberant Satomi Oka, brings a surprising level of insight to Okubo's troubles, leavening a dark narrative with much needed humor and charm. I see this as a sort of miniature version of the 47 Ronin story, only without so much bloodshed and arriving at a far more reasonable and enlightened resolution.

The Jidai-Geki Knights