Nineteenth-century Japanese costume piece, 1865 to be exact, examines the flutter and flap in a samurai regiment (pledged to maintain order and put down uprisings) upon the enlistment of a babyfaced eighteen-year-old with doll-like feminine locks and a buttonhole mouth. He soon has more suitors than he could beat off with a kendo stick, even if he tried. A new twist, as it were, to the samurai genre, although "common practice" according to the testimony of a blasé old soldier. The subject is handled without sensationalism, with utmost gravity. Yet there is something a little silly, a little anti-gravity, about the total focus on the subject, as if the samurai and filmmaker alike had fallen under some aphrodisiac spell. They and he desperately need something else to occupy their minds. "He" is no one less than Nagisa Oshima, who has now been turning out movies for over four decades. One has to stress the "now" because of the more-than-a-decade hiatus since Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Max Mon Amour, to say nothing of the incapacitating stroke in 1996. After so long an absence, it is all the more gratifying, even to a large extent restorative of gravity, to watch the stately, almost ceremonial procession of his images: neatly pruned, balanced, geometrized. Such serene mastery comes only, though not necessarily, with age and experience. Ryuhei Matsuda, Beat Takeshi, Shinji Takeda, Tadanobu Asano. (2000) — Duncan Shepherd
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