Unwieldy Brothers (1960)
Directed by Tadashi Sawashima

Unwieldy Brothers
Abarenbo Kyodai
Starring Chiyonosuke Azuma, (Taisuke), Katsuo Nakamura (Taizo), Kinnosuke Nakamura (Lord of Wakaba Castle), Denjiro Okochi (Yamaji), Keiko Okawa (Chika), Satomi Oka (Tsuru), Isao Yamagata (Inaba), Atsushi Watanabe (Sagami-ya), Haruo Tanaka, Sonosuke Sawamura

Toei Company, 90 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi (TV broadcast quality)

This entertaining comedy/drama centers around an Odd Couple pair of young samurai brothers: Taisuke is kind-hearted and even-tempered, but overall a lazy simpleton lacking ambition, whereas Taizo is smarter, but given to fits of emotion and impulsive violence. Although the movie stars the well-known Nakamura brothers, Kinnosuke and Katsuo, they don't portray the brothers here. Instead Chiyonosuke Azuma stars as Taisuke to Katsuo's Taizo, while Kinnosuke takes the supporting role of their master, the unnamed Lord of Wakaba Castle.

The story kicks off when the Lord for some reason appoints the slacker Taisuke to be the new provincial officer overseeing his distant territory of Wakaba. Taisuke is as surprised as everyone else and stricken with anxiety over how he's supposed to function without having his brother around to take care of him, not to mention to behave as the man in charge. In Wakabe, the Lord's close friend Yamaji spreads the word that Taisuke is a wise and powerful leader, based on the sterling reputation of Taisuke and Taizo's late father. Soon everyone in Wakaba is abuzz with anticipation of the awesome samurai coming to town. In particular, a gang of crooked officials led by castle warden Inaba worries that Taisuke is being sent with the mission of rooting out their corruption. They've been embezzling taxes and logging trees from the royal forests without permission, so they're paranoid that Taisuke is coming to shut them down.

But of course, Taisuke is beyond clueless. And when the new provincial officer arrives in Wakaba, a hilarious comedy of errors ensues. The dumb son mistaken as possessing the same savvy and clout as his father, Taisuke is very much a George W. Bush in ancient Japan. His every incidental action or word is rigorously examined for political significance and shades of hidden meaning, when in fact the poor guy is just bumbling around and trying not to embarrass himself. Inaba and his men see Taisuke staring at the moat around the castle, figuring he must be carefully sizing up its strategic capacities in the event of a siege. In fact, Taisuke is just looking at the carp swimming in the water and daydreaming about how tasty they would be. When he is introduced to everyone at the castle, Taisuke stiffly repeats the same formal greeting each time, struggling to follow courtly protocol. But his same bland words are variously interpreted as cordial, sarcastic or threatening, depending on the fears and suspicions of the observer.

Taisuke resides as the guest of gullible old Yamaji, whose two eligible daughters have been gossiping excitedly about the new official. Chika practically falls in love with Taisuke before laying eyes on him, and after meeting him she finds his eccentricities charming and mysterious. But her shrewd sister Tsuru sees right through Taisuke and recognizes him as an oaf.

Naturally, Tsuru is only among the first to do so. Soon word gets around that back in Edo everyone considers Taisuke an incompetent buffoon, and the new official becomes a laughing stock. Inaba and his cronies breathe a sigh of relief. Taisuke calmly takes the ridicule in stride, as he does with most everything, although his self-confidence has grown and he now wants the chance to prove himself.

At this juncture, the Lord of Wakaba Castle decides to send Taizo to Wakaba to help out his brother. The reunited siblings get into lots of comedy hijinks with their fire and ice personalities, with Taizo like a bull in a china shop where Taisuke has been treading so carefully. Literally, Taizo runs around crashing through walls like the Kool-Aid Man. And he inevitably hooks up with Chika's sister Tsuru, just to bring the brothers plus sisters equation into balance. The humor and romance give way to serious drama after Taizo makes rash attacks against the corrupt Inaba and tragic consequences result. The desperate situation focuses Taisuke to take decisive action and show how his cool-headed compassion makes him a capable leader, even if he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Unwieldy Brothers is lots of fun, though I have to say the serious parts aren't as good as the very inspired comedic situations. Best known for his supporting roles, Chiyonosuke Azuma positively shines in the lead role of the earnest Taisuke. Tadashi Sawashima shows his flair for creating comedy by putting simple, average people in over their heads in the aristocratic samurai world, a rich vein of humor he mined to perfection in Good Rascals.

The Jidai-Geki Knights