Road of Chivalry (1960)
Directed by Sadatsugu Matsuda

Road of Chivalry
Ninkyo Nakasendo
Starring Cheizo Kataoka (Jirocho), Utaemon Ichikawa (Chuji of Kunisada), Kinnosuke Nakamura (Hatsugoro), Hashizo Okawa (Asajiro), Ryutaro Otomo (Omasa), Denjiro Okochi (Kabe), Tomisaburo Wakayama (Omasa), Katsuo Nakamura (Ogawa), Chiyonosuke Azuma, Ryunosuke Tsukigata (Isaburo), Isao Yamagata, Kotaro Satomi, Kenji Susukida, Shinobu Chihara, Satomi Oka, Atsushi Watanabe

Toei Company, 91 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi, Samurai DVD (TV broadcast quality)

Closing out the semi-trilogy of Jirocho movies by Sadatsugu Matusda, Road of Chivalry is very much the Return of the Jedi to A Chivalrous Spirit's The Empire Strikes Back: a big, bombastic finale that comes up short in comparison to an extraordinary and emotionally nuanced middle act. Regardless, it's still got Cheizo Kataoka playing Jirocho, which is an awesome thing under any circumstances. The rest of the ensemble plays musical chairs with their roles once again, and this time Utaemon Ichikawa moves up from cameo support to snag the plum co-starring role of Chuji of Kunisada.

Our story revolves around rival boss Masaemon stirring up trouble by spreading the rumor that Jirocho is conspiring with other bosses to incite a revolt among the farmers. On the run under these false accusations, Jirocho and his men take refuge with their friend Ogawa and his wife Otaki. This bring us another of the classic Jirocho yarns, as Jirocho gives Ogawa 10 ryo to thank him for his hospitality, and Ogawa immediately gambles the money away while his guests are sleeping. Ogawa pawns the Shimizu men's clothes hoping to win back the money, but of course he loses everything. Otaki voluntarily sells herself into prostitution in order to repay their guests, but Jirocho immediately buys back her contract and gives more money to Ogawa despite his foolishness. Then Jirocho's proud 28 yakuza end up having to march the roadways in their underwear. This same scenario also unfolds in Masahiro Makino's Kingdom of Jirocho.

But the main attraction in Road of Chivalry is the presence of Chuji of Kunisada, who is the other legendary chivalrous yakuza of 19th century folklore alongside Shimizu no Jirocho. Chuji is generally presented as the Robin Hood of Japan, devoted to protecting poor commoners from oppressive officials and bandits. Chuji of Kunisada has been the subject of loads of other movies, having been portrayed by Toshiro Mifune and Chiezo Kataoka himself, among many others.

In this movie, Jirocho and Chuji respect each other by reputation but have never met before this point. I really don't know if it was commonplace for the two legendary figures to meet up in stories and films, or if this was a rare and momentous event like a Superman and Spider-Man crossover. According to one account I found, the real-life Chuji lived at an earlier time than Jirocho, so the whole thing is probably an anachronistic cluster. But hey, ninkyo-eiga are all about myth and entertainment, so let's forget about factual history and enjoy.

Anyway, the conspiratorial bad guys are trying to smear Chuji's good name just as they're doing to Jirocho. Chuji's men are framed with robbing gambling dens and the murder of Jirocho's friend Hatsugoro. This draws Jirocho and Chuji into conflict against each other. In the grand old "When Worlds Collide!" tradition of bringing two titanic characters together, they first have to fight over some concocted misunderstanding, then they settle their differences and team up to face their mutual foe. And that's exactly what we get. When the two chivalrous yakuza bosses arrive at the long-anticipated faceoff and draw their swords, there's an indescribable tension as they size each other up. Without either one making the first strike, Jirocho relents and puts down his blade. "Kunisada, your stance is filled with manliness," Jirocho asserts. "You couldn't have killed Hatsugoro." Crisis averted. Shrewd judge of character (and manly stances), that Jirocho.

As per the mandatory formula, everything gets resolved in an epic battle, and that wraps up the series. It's not a bad closing chapter, but when I want to watch Chiezo Kataoka as Jirocho, A Chivalrous Spirit is the one I'll reach for first.

The Jidai-Geki Knights