Forbidden Castle (1959)
Directed by Yasushi Sasaki

Forbidden Castle
Starring Kinnosuke Nakamura (Shumenosuke), Satomi Oka (Asaji), Kenji Susukida (Lord Morimosa), Hiroko Sakuramachi (Chigusa), Keiko Okawa (Priness Mio), Isao Yamagata (Kuranosuke)

Toei Company, 93 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Based on a story by Renzaburo Shibata, whose novels also served as the basis for such films as the Nemuri Kyoshiro series, Forbidden Castle is one of the many jidai-geki tales set in the aftermath of the battle of Sekigahara, the Toyotomi defeat marking the dawn of the Tokugawa era. The plot concerns Ino Morimosa, the mad lord of Hisaka Castle, who betrayed his allies and helped bring down the Toyotomi. Kinnosuke Nakamura stars as Morimosa's estranged son Shumenosuke, who left years ago to live as a wandering ronin after disagreement with his father. Hearing of the latest outrages perpetrated by his Morimosa, Shumenosuke resolves to return to Hisaka Castle and kill his father.

Clan officials have meanwhile decided to remove Morimosa from power and seek a suitable successor. They agree that his sole long-lost heir should become the new lord, but if he can't be found, they name Shumenosuke's childhood friend Yorinosuke as the next in line. Even though Yorinosuke still has fondness for Shumenosuke, who is also the man his sister Chigusa is in love with, the promise of power corrupts Yorinosuke and he takes measures to get eliminate the castle's rightful heir.

Honestly, Nakaumra isn't at his best in this movie, turning in a bit of a one-note performance. But a number of the supporting characters keep things interesting. Kenji Susukida is excellent as Lord Morimosa, the ostensible maniac who ultimately reveals the hidden motivations behind his actions and the secrets Shumenosuke never knew all his life. In many ways Morimosa prefigures the tragic Lord Hidetora from Kurosawa's Ran. There is a similar scene of Morimosa losing his mind while his castle goes up in flames around him, and later he ends up as an outcast invalid in the wilderness, under the protection of his one last remaining servant.

That loyal caregiver, Hisaka Castle maid Asaji, is by far my favorite character in the movie. She is played by Satomi Oka, looking absolutely gorgeous in heavy eye makeup that makes her radiant face light up the screen every time she appears. Asaji is tough and spunky, aiding Shumenosuke while remaining faithful to her master, and ultimately helping to bridge the huge divide between the father and son.

The Jidai-Geki Knights