GOYOKIN is the seventh movie from Hideo Gosha, the director who started with THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI and SWORD OF THE BEAST. So he’d been around a bit by that point. It was 1969, the hippie era over here, but questioning authority was part of the samurai movie tradition anyway. The heroes follow a strict code and usually have to deal with some government asshole trying to pervert it. They struggle when there’s a discrepancy between following the rules and doing the right thing. And they always have differing interpretations of what those two things are. But this one seems particularly fitting for a couple summers after the summer of love, because it’s about one man who feels he must stand up against the power structure to stop an atrocity.
It starts with a mysterious incident. A girl returns home to her village to find that everyone has disappeared. Nobody there but her and the crows. They blame it on a curse called the Kamikakushi, but in fact it was a government sanctioned massacre. Some Waco shit. The Saido province feels they have to steal a shipment of gold in order to pay their taxes and survive, and they kill the local fishermen so there aren’t any witnesses. They feel it’s a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.
Three years later the ronin Magobei (Tatsuya Nakadai, YOJIMBO, THE SWORD OF DOOM, RAN) still regrets not trying to stop the slaughter. His brother-in-law Tatewaki (Tetsuro Tanba, THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI, RIKI-OH), the guy in charge, vowed to never do it again. But when assassins come to kill Magobei (they fail) he finds out it’s a precursor to another one. Clearly this stolen gold economics is not very sustainable in my opinion.
Magobei’s not gonna make the same mistake he made last time. He’s gotta stop this massacre or die trying. So he puts on his cool hat and starts walking.
It takes place mostly in rural areas without many people around, but he happens to be walking by when a brother and sister are getting chased by some Yakuza who they cheated in a dice game. I don’t think Magobei cares that much what happens to these brats, but he hears the lady talking shit saying nobody can touch her because she’s cursed, she’s the girl who survived a Kamikakushi. So that piques his interest.
Then there’s this other ronin Samon (Kinnosuke Nakamura), a guy with a cartoonishly dickish face, who starts poking his nose around. He knows Magobei is up to something and thinks there’s money in it. He seems untrustworthy, but when he goes to betray Magobei to Tatewaki we find out he’s actually going as a double agent, fishing for intel.
They figure out what the plan is and when it’s going down, but that just means they have to face an army prepared for a massacre. Magobei does a good job of picking some of them off, then gets trapped in a run down building. He defends it well, stabbing through the windows and the ceiling when guys try to sneak up on him.
Tatewaki has some amount of honor. He doesn’t want to kill Magobei. He has him tied up hanging from a tall tree in the forest and tries to plead his case to him. He says he doesn’t have a choice, the daimyo or whatever will collapse if he doesn’t kill these people. Magobei says he doesn’t have a choice either, he has to kill him to stop him. Not the wisest thing to say hanging from a tree, but he pulls off a pretty great Houdini style escape.
This feels more modern than many samurai movies because it’s shot mostly on location and turns into kind of a noisy spectacle. There’s snow, fire, rainstorms, swarms of crows, puddles of blood. But like the best samurai movies the final showdown is very intimate and emotional. There’s a sense of mutual respect and sadness that it had to come to this. But it did have to. Neither of them was gonna back down.
That’s the thing about strict codes of honor, and being as sure of your position as a samurai. Sometimes you get yourself into a Dr. Seuss’ The Zax type of situation.
You know, about 40 minutes into this was when it hit me that oh shit, this is MASTER GUNFIGHTER! That’s a pretty obscure reference I suppose. Tom Laughlin of BILLY JACK fame did this western where he was trying to stop his old friend the wealthy land baron Ron O’Neal from wiping out a Mexican village. I once knew it was a remake of a samurai movie, but had no idea it was this one until I was already watching it.
But it makes sense that the ol’ hippie asskicker and Freedom School co-learner would dig this story. It’ s about having a conscience and standing up to a government abuse of power. It’s about an economic policy that crushes the poor, so the government can keep borrowing. And it has villains who clearly believe their criminal conspiracy is the right and patriotic thing to do. But Magobei knows better, and he knows he has to take a stand. He’s a conscientious objector with a sword.