Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Japan Cuts ’15: Sanchu Uprising
was never any fun for the peasants. It was especially hard for the farmers,
woodsmen, and iron-workers of Sanchu. They were regularly transferred from lord
to lord, so each could collect his taxes within the same year. In 1726, they
rose up and said enough. Unfortunately, factionalism would be their undoing.
The cowardly Jihei was not much help either. It is through his unreliable eyes
that viewers witness the revolt and its aftermath in Juichiro Yamasaki’s Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn (trailer here), which screens as
the closing film of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film
in New York.
brother-in-law Shinroku is probably the only member of his wife’s more
well-to-do family who likes the roguish black sheep. As the various lords
continue to exploit the region, Shinroku naturally expects Jihei to join the
brewing rebellion. However, the not-terribly-principled Jihei has decidedly mixed
feelings. Sadly, his worst instincts are stoked by the spirit of Manzo, a
recently friend, who took the fall with the Shogunate authorities years ago for
a dodgy scheme Jihei was running. Guilt mixed with fear will not lead to good
decision-making for the sad sack Jihei.
and Jihei are farmers, as is the charismatic leader of the rebellion. However,
the woodsmen provided the movement’s critical mass. When they are sold out at
the bargaining table, Shinroku knows the samurai and nobles will be able to
successfully divide and conquer.
though it is a downer, Sanchu’s first
act chronicling the ill-fated Uprising is by far the strongest. Watching the
older and sadder Jihei wrestling with his angst and misgivings is not nearly as
compelling. Frankly, the post-uprising sequences are over-stuffed with
inconsequential encounters and meta-postscripts set in the present day. Still,
there are some striking black-and-white animated interludes that give the film
an unusual flavor.
his character is a problematic focal point, Naohisa Nakagaki shows an
impressive range as Jihei. The large ensemble is wildly talented, particularly
Kano Kajiwara, who is quite touching as the long-suffering Tami. However, they
are often laboring against Yamasaki’s artificial stylization. Yet, that
strangely seems to work in the case of Ayako Sasaki’s discordant,
percussion-heavy experimental jazz score. It is certainly not the sort of music
that lulls you into complacency.
Almost three hundred years after the Uprising, governments
are still leveling punitive taxes on the productive classes. Indeed, during its
best moments, Sanchu leads us to
question just how far we have socially advanced since the feudal times. It is
an uneven film, but when it connects, it hits hard. Recommended on balance for
those who appreciate Jidaigeki films with a contemporary sensibility, Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn screens Sunday
night (7/19), at the Japan Society, as the closing film of Japan Cuts ’15.
Labels: Japan Cuts '15, Japanese Cinema