KIFF Opening Film Tenchu! and Special Guests
The Kyoto International Film and Art Festival kicked off its screening schedule Thursday night with a dearly loved classic from director Hideo Gosha call Tenchu! (Hitokiri). The film is part of the Gosha retrospective the festival is putting on. In addition to screening the 1969 classic the opening film saw a special stage appearance by Kazuyoshi Okuyama, Tamao Nakamura and Tomoe Gosha. Okuyama is a legendary film producer in Japan, Nakamura an beloved actress active in the 1950s who was married to actor Shintaro Katsu, and Tomoe Gosha is the daughter of the director.
The production of Tenchu! saw a historic cast assembled. It included renowned Japanese actors Shintaro Katsu, Tatsuya Nakadai and Yujiro Ishihara as well as the celebrated novelist and activist Yukio Mishima. Okuyama recounted a story from the production of Tenchu! where Gosha cast the three actors but was looking for a fourth person. He asked Mishima to be in the film but the famous writer thought he shouldn't assent right away. But he was so eager to take the role he couldn’t wait and he called on the same day the offer came to accept. Mishima wasn’t an actor however so he face some challenges in the role. His hands shook during his takes. Nakamura recounted that her husband Shintaro Katsu was able to help Mishima by explaining this in the context of the story. He said Mishima’s character is a killer so naturally his hands shake. She related the two got close and Katsu helped Mishima with is performance. The guests thrilled the crowd by providing some photos from the set of Tenchu!. One in particular shows Katsu, the massive star Yujiro Ishihara and Mishima relaxing together on the set and may be the only photo of these luminary figures in Japanese popular culture together.
The film is one of the finest examples of the Chambara (Japanese samurai/sword fighting) genre. Tenchu! is the story of Izo Okada (Katsu), a ronin (a masterless samurai), who was born into dire poverty. Attempting to escape this he joins the Tosa clan who are led by Takechi (Nakadai), a cruel tyrant. Takechi forces Izo to become a mindless killer, one who no longer recognizes himself and eventually needs to break free. Filled with tension, intense performances and beautifully staged fighting, the film is an all-time masterpiece of Japanese cinema.
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