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Friday, June 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Samurai Rebellion: A stunning start to the "Summer of Samurai"

Special to The Seattle Times

Hollywood's summer movies are strictly hit-or-miss, but Northwest Film Forum is serving up a sure thing: Beginning tonight, Capitol Hill's sanctuary for cinephiles is presenting "Summer of Samurai," a three-week slate of 11 well-chosen films that collectively define the swordplay film (or "chanbara") that popularized Japanese cinema around the world.

Some of the films are available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, but there's something special about sharing classic chanbara with a devoted audience. And NWFF's comprehensive series includes several titles that were previously rare or unavailable.

Playing tonight through Sunday, Masaki Kobayashi's influential "Samurai Rebellion" gets the series off to a rousing start with its Edo-period story of Isaburo, an aging samurai (played by the legendary Toshiro Mifune) whose son (Go Kato) is forced to marry his feudal lord's rejected mistress (a fierce Yoko Tsukasa). When the feudal lord reverses his decision and demands the woman's return, Isaburo responds to this double-injustice with explosive fury.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Samurai Rebellion," with Toshiro Mifune. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, from a screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto. 121 minutes. Not rated; contains violence. In Japanese with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Sunday. This film is part of "Summer of Samurai," a series of 11 films that runs today through July 6 at NWFF. For titles, showtimes and ticket information, call 206-329-2629 or visit www.nwfilmforum.org.

More Japanese period film, set in the 1720s, than full-on chanbara, Kobayashi's 1967 hit reflects the social tumult of its time by depicting a defiant swordsman amidst totalitarian excess. The film's escalation of tension is almost unbearable, and Mifune erupts with a ferocity that's as righteous as it is ultimately tragic, for Kobayashi refuses to soften the film's devastating imbalance of power.

Playing June 30-July 2, Kobayashi's excellent 1964 film "Harakiri" is a robustly Shakespearean study of feudal hypocrisy toward warriors in peacetime, as a samurai elder (an unforgettable performance by Tatsuya Nakadai) seeks revenge for the unnecessary ritual suicide of his beloved son-in-law. In both form and story, Kobayashi explores powerful themes that were later intensified in "Samurai Rebellion."

Other selected highlights in the series include:

"New Tale of Zatoichi" (Monday): The first color film (from 1963) in the popular, long-running "Blind Swordsman" series, in which the title character is torn between love and justice when betrayed by his former master.

"Three Outlaw Samurai" (Tuesday-Thursday): Rarely screened outside of Japan since its 1964 release, Hideo Gosha's acclaimed directorial debut follows a trio of wandering ronin (masterless samurai) who defend a group of peasants that have kidnapped the local lord's daughter in protest against unfair taxes.

"Kill!" (June 23-25): Based on the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa's classic "Sanjuro," Kihachi Okamoto's 1968 action comedy was influenced by Italian spaghetti westerns and concerns two down-on-their-luck swordsmen involved in a local clan dispute.

"Seven Samurai" (July 5-6): Closing out the series is the granddaddy of all chanbara, Kurosawa's 1954 classic, being shown from a new 206-minute 35mm print with three minutes of additional footage. You'll be amazed how quickly three-plus hours can pass.

For a complete series listing, visit www.nwfilmforum.org.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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