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THE GREAT MELEE

Director: EIICHI KUDO

JAPAN • 1964 • SUBTITLED • BLACK AND WHITE • 118 MIN


EIICHI KUDO’S THE GREAT MÊLEE IS ONE OF THE FINEST EXAMPLES OF HOW DIRECTLY THE PERIOD SAMURAI FILM SPOKE ABOUT WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE STREETS OF TOKYO DURING THE 1960S. IN AN INTERVIEW IN OUTLAW MASTERS OF JAPANESE FILM, THE DIRECTOR EXPLAINS HOW ITS STORY OF A GROUP OF SAMURAI PLOTTING THE ASSASSINATION OF THE SHOGUN’S HEIR WAS AN ALLEGORY FOR THE INCREASINGLY VIOLENT STRUGGLES OF THE STUDENT PROTEST MOVEMENT OF THE DAY. THE FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN THAT UNITE TO CARRY OUT THE KILLING HAVE ALL IN ONE FORM OF ANOTHER BEEN THE VICTIM OF THE BACKROOM MACHINATIONS OF POWERFUL BUREAUCRAT SAKAI, WHO PLANS TO BRING THE YOUNGEST HEIR TO THE THRONE TO POWER AND RULE IN HIS PLACE.
Jinbo (Kotaro Satomi) is a young swordsman whose wife was needlessly killed by government forces hunting for dissenters. On the run and alone, he eventually falls in with a group of conspirators led by a wealthy patron. The film plays itself out in a series of carefully composed scenes of backroom intrigue, which grow more and more jittery as the assassination approaches. When the great battle or mêlee finally arrives, and the rebels attempt to corner the prince’s procession, director Kudo amps up the chaos by shooting the scene entirely with handheld cameras. Rebels, government troops and innocent bystanders alike lie scattered in the mud, screaming, crying and bleeding as the attempt to kill the puppet prince turns into a grotesque farce.—Tom Mes.

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