Movie Review: Goyokin

Posted: April 6, 2013 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Goyokin 1969/ Toho/ Dir. Hideo Gosha

For reasons of my own, I was watching some heist movies. I like a good heist flick, and there aren’t enough of them. There are lots of heist flicks, but only a few good ones. I had gone through the usual line-up of movies, and after I had exhausted my supply I still felt the need to go once more into the heist film vault. So what I did was examine what you need for a good heist movie. That led me to this Japanese samurai movie set in the 1800s. As opposed to a French samurai movie set in the 1460s I guess? Well, some samurai movies are set during the 1600s, that seems to be the two times we generally get. During the early days of the Tokugawa shogunate or just before the Meiji Restoration, which is the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. Soooo, during the Tokugawa shogunate. You know what? Forget this part! I’ve already said shogunate way too many times.

Why do I call this a heist movie and not a samurai movie?

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Badass Supreme!

You can reset this movie in present day Michigan, and it would basically work the same as it does set in 19th century Japan. You may want New York or Boston, but we’re going to go with Michigan. Actually, you want a small town outside Traverse City, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that all you need is the impression that some officials can be bribed and that some guys just can’t be bought. This is a heist that could have happened just about anywhere and at just about any time. Sure, some of the specifics would have to change, but the basic story is told on the back of most any direct to DVD movie you want to mention.

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Meanwhile, at Stately Wayne Manor

The best way to describe the movie is to ascribe things with the role they would fill if the film took place in America… or whatever amuses me most. My site, my review, my call. So, we’re going to call the main character Samurai Robert De Niro, because that’s the actor I think would have played this role. Not current De Niro, but De Niro in his heyday. Late 70s and early 80s De Niro. The rest will come as we go along, but you get the idea. Besides, I have a long admitted problem with Chinese and Japanese names. They all just sort of mix and meld together in my mind because they don’t sound anything like names we would use in the west.

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Like a mid-90s music video.

So here is the basic scheme, here is the thing everyone wants to get. Silver and gold is mined on an island, and for argument’s sake we’ll say it’s Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The gold is then loaded onto a boat and shipped to (say) Chicago. The most dangerous part of the journey is the part where they have to go around the little peninsula that’s just north of Traverse City, as I said before. This is (in the movie) a treacherous bit of water and has become known as a ship graveyard. It’s so important you understand all of this that it’s explained in some narration before the movie even gets started. Like most heist movies though, this is actually terribly unimportant because it’s just a standard device to hinge the plot around. Of course you need to understand it, but as far as the movie goes, it could be diamonds or a team of trained leopard seals or pre-release copies of the latest Taylor Swift CD.

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This laugh totally doesn’t look fake, right?

There are many interesting story telling elements used in this movie. Part of the story is told in flashback, everything that isn’t part of the current event of the heist, everything backstory, it’s all shown in a series of flashbacks that are specific to the character. This helps the first third of the movie click along nicely without really slowing things down too much. There is a lot of set-up to unpack, and it would be tedious trying to fully assemble the narrative only to have to do it again. The movie neatly sidesteps the problem, allowing us to be drawn into the tale and hinting at the full story until all is revealed and we can move forward.

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This is just a shot of Hottie McHotterson, lookin’ hot.

The movie proper opens with a young woman returning home after an absence to find her village deserted. She comes to the conclusion that evil crow spirits took all the villagers away, and it becomes a local legend. She becomes The Woman What Was Done Wrong. Now let me stop for a moment and express a concern. You should probably watch this movie, if you like samurai movies or heist movies, you should see it. I’m not ten minutes into the movie and I’m already going to say the word “Spoilers” because I think that I’ve already given you enough to know if you’re interested. If anything I’ve said so far has peaked even a hint of interest, go seek the movie out and watch it. Anything I say after this is going to damage some of the drama and I don’t want to do that. Your first viewing of a movie is important, and something like this contains a lot of mystery in the first half. I’m not going to recount the plot piece by piece, but in my discussion I am going to spoil some things.

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I was in my office, when she walked in…

Okay, having said all that… Three years ago the officials of Traverse City found that the boat containing the gold and silver from Beaver Island hit a rock and the money was recovered by the villagers on the peninsula. Instead of thanking them and going on their way, the local cops proved how corrupt they were by slaughtering the villagers and keeping the gold. They had reasons, Traverse City is broke and can’t pay its debts. Loosing Traverse City to the state would mean some 600 samurai (cops? whatever) would be out of work and unable to get more work. What are 20 fishermen when you consider all the people that would have their lives ruined if they didn’t do this? Well, Samurai Robert De Niro didn’t agree. He thought it was wrong, but instead of ruining the guy in charge (his best friend since childhood and brother-in-law) he decided to leave. He left the faith and ran off to Chicago to live in poverty and silence.

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Just a fleshwound.

The problem is, that in the three years that have passed, all the gold has been spent. Now they want to recreate the accident and get more of the gold. All of this would be bad, but not “Movie Worthy” if not for one thing. See, someone (not the best friend) decided that Samurai Robert De Niro knows too much and that he needs to be silenced. So they send Some Guys after him. A Samurai Robert De Niro was about to sell off his sword and give up forever, Some Guys find him. Isn’t that just perfect for a movie of this kind. Here he was, seconds away from giving up his guns, when trouble reared its ugly head. Because this is Samurai Robert De Niro and not some punk, he dispatches the Some Guys and even has time for a flashback before doing the last one in. He was all ready to give up, when they came looking for him, and he decided it was time to take care of unfinished business! It’s that kind of movie.

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Momma said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this my momma said.

Except it’s not that kind of movie. This is more than that, it’s got a flair of filmmaking that you couldn’t get in a cheap knock-off. You get to know about Samurai Robert De Niro, and about The Woman What Was Done Wrong, and are even given a chance to sympathize with The Best Friend if you want to. I haven’t even gotten to the Han Solo character, the one who seems to only want money but turns out to be much more than he presents himself to be. Except, having set up the movie, that’s where I kind of stop talking about it in terms of plot. At this point, I’m only interested in talking about it in terms of what the movie means.

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FIRE!

This is a movie about honor, about The Code, and about how some people talk about it and other people live it. The guy playing Samurai Robert De Niro did several movies in this vein, which he was perfectly suited for. He did a lot of work expressing the idea that the whole samurai thing was a load of BS and that the real deal was the guy who wasn’t accepted as the societal norm. Samurai Robert De Niro is a guy who is conflicted by his sense of loyalty, his wish to see the innocent saved and his desire to be a decent person. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, he doesn’t even want to see the idea of samurai society continue, he just wants things to go be okay even though he knows they will never really be okay ever again. Three years ago, his eyes were opened to the basic hypocrisy of his world, and he hasn’t been able to close his eyes since then. He believes that the code of Bushido is total BS, just something the bad guys are hiding behind. The irony in that, of course, is he represents the code it perfectly.

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I’ll be honest, I have no good joke.

One also can’t escape the fact that after a lengthy set up, the second half of this movie is just a pretty kick ass action movie. Sure, one with a soul and a reason, but an action movie none the less. Not just an action movie either, but one with a hero that is as tough as a whole box of nails. This guy is really rather familiar to any action fan of the 80s, because he’s one of those heroes who was pushed into a corner and finally has to kick ass in hopes of being left alone. If done in America, I think this would be a much different movie, probably involving all criminals instead of a group of officials that have gone corrupt.

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Just check the badassery

What can’t be denied is that this movie takes place during a cold part of the year, probably winter. You rarely see movies like this, where there are big action sequences taking place during a blizzard, with bonfires as the only light or heat. You don’t see sword fights where characters are blowing on their hands to keep their fingers from getting too stiff, where you can see the that the actors are shivering from the cold. I always love a movie that doesn’t just take place in California weather. You don’t get that too often, and I love it when it does happen. As a piece, this is a great movie and you should watch it.

Official Score:
78 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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