Eiichi Kudo’s The Great Killing is like the chambara version of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. With its focus on realism and commentary on the social upheaval in 1960’s Japan, the second film in Kudo’s Samurai Rebellion trilogy is an absolute pinnacle of the genre and elevates it to new heights. The film follows a group of revolutionaries that are being hunted down by a shogunate elder that is trying to rise to power. By the use of installing the younger brother of the shogun, the elder would be able to use him as the face of an empire that he would run completely behind the scenes. After his plot is found out and to be exploited by a group of ronin, the elder enlists the help of the shogun to target all ronin, with the hopes of finding out who the conspirators against him are.
The Great Killing does a perfect job at immersing the audience in its cruel world, by showing various ronin being chased, captured or even being cut down at the hands of members of the government. Kudo and Director of Photography, Osamu Furuya opt for extremely long takes, that give it a sense of realism during the action pieces. Nami Munakata, who plays the elusive Lady Miya, gives an amazing performance and creates a character unlike any other woman in any chambara film I’ve seen. While she still gets taken advantage of by men in the film, both, mentally and physically, the sheer ferocity and independence that Munakata displays is quite refreshing. The film can be a bit long winded for its thin plot and some of the characters seem much like a blank slate, that still doesn’t stop The Great Killing a great film.
The DVD that Animeigo has put out for The Great Killing is a fantastic presentation, that lacks bells and whistles. The video quality is really solid, with only a few scenes in the film looking a little dirty. There’s some program notes and really great colored subtitles that help for differentiating various characters speaking to one another. Aside from this, a trailer for the film rounds out all of the features that are on the disc. Don’t think of this as a complaint either, The Great Killing is a film so powerful, that it doesn’t need a bunch supplements to help sell one on getting this disc.
While 13 Assassins was very much a chambara film, with anti establishment themes, The Great Killing shows you full on what its about and what its trying to say. Eiichi Kudo certainly stepped up his game with this entry in the Samurai Revolution trilogy and certainly makes me eager to see what he does in 11 Samurai. Highly Recommended!