The Gambling Samurai
(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Senkichi Taniguchi. Screenplay: Kaneto Shindo. Photography: Rokuro Nishigaki. Music: Masaru Sato. Co-stars: Daisuke Kato, Yosuke Natsuki, Kankuro Nakamura, Tetsuro Tamba, Michiyo Aratama.
The legend of Kunisada Chuji, a renowned figure of Japanese lore on a par with Robin Hood, has provided material for several movies. Chuji typifies one of the main character types Mifune has become known for: the good bad guy.
Chuji, despite the title, is no samurai. He is a gambler and petty thief who returns to his home town after a long absence to find the place fallen on hard times and under the siege of oppressive government officials. The man his sister was to marry has been murdered and she has been driven mad. Chuji sets out to gain revenge, first by stealing from the government granary to aid the starving farmers, then, heady with success, by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Eventually, Chuji escapes into the nearby hills, vowing to his followers to return.
The popular image of Chuji shows him with bandanna partially covering his face. Boldly taunting the police, Chuji springs from rooftop to rooftop as the polic close in and try to capture him.
Chuji is one of several "new heroes" in Japanese popular culture who have been popular on screen since the era of silent films. He is characterized by Tadao Sato, in his book Currents in Japanese Cinema, as a "nihilistic hero," a "quasi-revolutionary" who becomes an outlaw when pushed into destitution and who turns on his pursuers when cornered rather than submit. Chuji and his fellow outlaws were especially popular during the desperate years of the Depression and increasing governmental oppression. These nihilists enjoyed a revival of popularity during the political turmoil of the 1960s.