There's A New Magistrate In Town: Not Your Typical Samurai F
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 11/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Dora-Heita" is a film that has a little history behind it. First, it was originally the idea of four cinematic legends: Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Akira Kurosawa. That was in 1969. Flash forward 3 decades later and you have the film finally coming into being with the last surviving member of this famed quartet, Kon Ichikawa, bringing this film to fruition. I have heard rumors that the late Toshiro Mifune was initially going to play the role of Dora-Heita, however, this did not happen. However, the viewer is given a wonderfully talented actor in the title role named Koji Yakusho. The man has been one of my favorite actors for some time now. With films such as the delightful comedies "Shall We Dance" "Warm Water Under A Red Bridge" and the superb thriller "Cure" among some of his film credits. And he fits right into the role of the not so debauched new Lord sent to clean up a rowdy town. Plus, his portrayal in this film is done exceptionally well with much humor.
Director Kon Ichikawa did this film out of respect to his now deceased fellow comrades, and we are fortunate enough to have had him behind the lens. The films narrative centers on a regional district in Japan called Horisoto. This is a lawless town, and the Lord of this regional district has named a new Magistrate to see to it that the town is cleaned up. This falls on the shoulders of a samurai named Koheita Mochizuki (Koji Yakusho). Three previous magistrates of the town have disappeared, and it appears nothing can tame this district. That is until Mochizuki comes to town. Mochizuki is given the nickname of Dora-Heita, or 'alley cat' [which means 'playboy'] by the local officials and townsfolk, who believe that he is a debauched character. Yet, this is what Mochizuki wants everyone to think.
However, Mochizuki has actually cultivated this reputation on purpose. He wants people to think that he is a liquor drinking and woman chasing man, in order to find out what is really happening in the town. This in turn is to let down the guard of those who are suspicious of him. His friend Senba (Ryudo Uzaki) is aware of this and lets the rumors fly. His mission is to clean up the town, and he must first rid the town of 3 powerful gangs responsible for the towns chaos. There is much humor in this film, moreover, the film does not take itself too seriously. The film is a tribute in many ways to the old classics such as "Yojimbo" or "Sanjuro." The lawlessness of the town is rampant in every conceivable way: gambling, prostitution, and murder, among others. Can Mochizuki clean up the town? Or will he fail like the previous magistrates?
Although some claim this film does not live up to the samurai genre, they are mistaken. This is not a typical samurai film, as it was never the intention to make this a sword-fighting, blood-splattering film. So for those who like samurai films of this nature, be warned it is not that type of film. But that does not mean it is not a worthy addition to the samurai genre. Mochizuki is skilled in the Martial Art of Jujitsu, but very little of this is shown. Plus, Mochizuki is a very unorthodox samurai, as he does not like to kill his opponents. This is not a violent or action packed samurai film that one typically finds in the films of the samurai genre, but it certainly delivers as a delightful film.
Moreover, it is a fun watch. Especially when things become a little complicated for Mochizuki when his former mistress Kosei (Yuko Asano) arrives in town. Two of the towns bosses may be recognizable to some, one is Nadahachi (Bunta Sugawara) who some will recognize from the film "The Yakuza Papers," while the other one is Saibei (Renji Ishibashi), whose films are too numerous to recount. This is a great little film, and worthy to add to ones Samurai cinema collection. Or even your cinema collection period. It is a very good film, and I found it to be a highly enjoyable treat to watch. And as for Koji Yakusho, his performance was magnificent as alway. And once again, this is a different kind of samurai flick, which is highly enjoyable and humorous as well. For those who like actor Koji Yakusho's film, I would recommend picking it up, as it is well worth the watch. Recommended. [Stars: 4.5]"
What a wonderful treat!!!
JustAForeignReader | Major Earthquake Faultline | 05/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"i rarely have such a wonderful time like watching this great film. it almost included any possible ingredient that a movie could be rendered, a thrilling and joyful ride along with the wonderful scenario. akira kurosawa did it again this time with his ingenious adaptation from a novel. you have to admit that kurosawa indeed was a genius, he was destined to be a great artist, like mozart, beethovan, lizt, chopin, tolstoy....those great composers, writers, painters, sculptors...brought the most wonderful things to human civilization. this 'alley cat' film indeed is a great viewing experience.
i've read some people highly praised 'when the last sword is drawn', but that movie was flawed, not as perfect as this 'dora-heita', furthermore, the actor who played this heita role was absolutely far better.
please do not overlook this great film, get it at any cost."
Good, Fun Samurai Movie Written By the Masters
Erik Rupp | Southern California | 05/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Dora-Heita was written in 1969 by Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Masaki Kobayashi as the first collaborative project for their newly formed production company. It was intended to be filmed around 1970, but the box office failure of Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den that year put an end to their production company after only one film. The screenplay was filed away - with Kon Ichikawa apparently never giving up on the idea of actually filming it.
It wasn't until after the deaths of all three of his co-writers that Ichikawa finally found a way to get the production financed, and it's a good thing that he did because Dora-Heita is one fun Samurai movie! Sure, it may not be up to the level of Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, or Samurai Rebellion, but it is still an above average Samurai movie with a good script (not as good as what these four legends did previously, but still a good script), and some nice twists and turns.
The performances in the movie are all good, and Koji Yakusho gives a fine performance as "Dora Heita." Could Toshiro Mifune have done a better job with the role back in 1970? Probably, but the movie wasn't made then, and Yakusho did a good job of making the character come to life.
The DVD from AnimEigo is excellent. The anamorphic widescreen picture is crisp, clean, and sharp. The subtitles, as with most AnimEigo releases, are second to none. Good translations, different colors for different characters during conversations, and not only are the signs and books translated, but terms unique to Japan are noted at the top of the screen.
In the end, while not up to the lofty standards of Kurosawa and Kobayashi's great Samurai epics, and while not quite up to the standards of recent Samurai movies like Twilight Samurai, When the Last Sword is Drawn, and The Hidden Blade, Dora-Heita is still pretty close, and a very entertaining movie. It's also a nice bit of history come to life - a lost gem that made it to the screen thanks to the perserverance of Kon Ichikawa!"
Nuanced, light, well-presented Flic.
John P. Marsh | North Las Vegas | 11/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Koji Yajusho is great in this light, comedic, samurai sleuth flic. Koji reminds one of Kevin Spacey and he's always interesting (some of which is due to the nuanced script which dances about fancifully.) While I tend to prefer the gory chanbara films over this tone, this production is very smart and always entertaining. Period sets, costumes as well as the casting are really detailed and deft. Even the fighting is pretty good. The romantic interest between Koji and his slighted Geisha is also strong. While I thought she (the Geisha from Edo) was written out of character at one point (when she was threatened in the ghetto and Koji came to her aid,) the love interest characters were well matched and provided a light slapstick tone. This strikes me as an 'old man's' film and while I've never been a great Kon Ichikawa fan (the director of this film) I think his work here was spot-on. Highly recommended for late-afternoon viewing - lemonaide in hand.