Shadow Over Fuji (1957)
Directed by Yasushi Sasaki

Shadow Over Fuji
Fuji ni tatsu kage
Starring Utaemon Ichikawa (Sato), Eitaro Shindo (Hakuten), Kotaro Satomi (Bunroku), Denjiro Okochi (Dr. Shosai), Yumiko Hasegawa (Some), Satomi Oka (Ishi), Hiroko Sakuramachi, Isao Yamagata (Tamaki), Shunji Sakai (Ryukichi), Atsushi Watanabe (Farmer), Kinya Kitaoji, Eiko Maruyama, Kunio Kaga

Toei Company, 105 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi
(TV broadcast quality)

This very entertaining movie concerns a battle between dueling samurai architects. Castle designers and builders occasionally figure in jidai-geki stories, typically when enemies are trying to get secret blueprints for strategic advantage in an assault. But Shadow Over Fuji is different in making the architects themselves the protagonists, rather than plot device characters holding needed information.

The story involves a lord nominating two master builders to compete for the honor of designing and constructing a training castle in the vicinity of Mount Fuji. The first architect, the devious Hakuten (Eitaro Shindo), plots to position the castle on farming grounds, displacing the local villagers and exploiting them as slave labor. Hakuten's aim is to embezzle the funds allocated to pay construction workers and split it with his bureaucratic co-conspirators. Competing against Hakuten is the noble Sato-sensei, a man of integrity and champion of the people played by Utaemon Ichikawa. Sato's objectives are strategically locating the castle for defensive advantage and not disrupting the villagers.

So the stage is set for conflict aplenty. While swords get drawn in the last act of the movie for some chambara action, most of the fighting is a battle of professional wits and skill between the master architects, with all kinds of cheating on Hakuten's part. They compete in a series of challenges, including a verbal debate, measurement of available lumber resources, gauging of water currents, and an exciting oxcart race. The rounds of architectural combat are really interesting and lend Shadow Over Fuji a unique flavor. The cinematography is great, too, with gorgeous views of the natural landscapes around Fuji.

The lighthearted story takes a dark turn after Hakuten takes drastic actions to eliminate Sato as his competition, and the poor villagers pay the price for supporting the kind-hearted architect. It's quite shockingly brutal for by 1959 Toei standards, practically a precursor of the cruel jidai-geki movement. Definitely one of Yasushi Sasaki's more thoughtful and challenging films.

The Jidai-Geki Knights