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March 7, 2012

The Best Films of Gosha Hideo

Gosha Hideo (1929-1992; 五社英雄) started with a career as TV director and only came to film when he was asked to remake his popular series Three Outlaw Samurai as a film for Shochiku in 1964. This was a period film with strong chanbara (sword fight) elements, and Gosha would continue making mostly films of this type until the late 1970s.

In the 80s he suddenly switched from machismo to romanticism, when he started making large-scale films about strong women, often geisha, for example based on the novels of Miyao Tomiko. In the same vein, he also remade Gate of Flesh, about a group of prostitutes during the U.S. Occupation, although Suzuki Seijun's version remains the best (the novel was by Tamura Taijiro). He further made the first film in the popular "series" about yakuza wives, Gokudo no Onnatachi.

Thus Gosha's work falls neatly into two halves, in popular terms "samurai" and "geisha." It must be said that the period films from the 1960s form his best work. These period films were strongly influenced by Kurosawa. He included sharp criticism of the hypocrisy of established authority and always supported the position of the underdog. His reputation among aficionados of chanbara films is very strong, thanks to his brutal realism and phenomal action sequences. The atmosphere of Gosha's films is quite dark, often even nihilistic. As a counterpoint, there are also big set pieces, such as the drumming of the masked farmers at the end of Goyokin. All his films have a kind of vulgar energy and are fun to watch. Long obliterated by the weight of Kurosawa in the West, finally Gosha is coming into his own as the "ordinary" master of the samurai genre.

Selection of films:
  • 1964 Three Outlaw Samurai (Sanpiki no Samurai)
    Shiba (Tanba Tetsuro), a wandering ronin, encounters a band of peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of their dictatorial magistrate and joins the fight with two other outlaws.
  • 1965 Sword of the Beast (Kedamono no Ken)
    A clan retainer who has killed a minister is pursued by his former comrades and fights back with the help of a master swordsman and gold seeker (Kato Go). This film has been brought out by Criterion.
  • 1966 The Secret of the Urn (Tange Sazen: Hien Iaigiri)
    A wonderful performance of Nakamura Kinnosuke as one-eyed, one-armed samurai Tange Sazen in a light-hearted remake of Yamanaka's entertaining film.
  • 1969 Goyokin 
    Nakadai Tatsuya and Tanba Tetsuro face off when a clan on the snowy Japan Sea coast wants to steal the shogun's gold and murder a whole village that is witness to the crime. Review by Stuart Galbraith IV.
  • 1969 Tenchu! (Hitokiri)
    Katsu Shintaro plays a mad-dog ronin in desperate financial straights. This film also feautures Nakadai Tatsuya and Ishihara Yujiro, as well as Mishima Yukio. The anti-hero sacrifices his life to get revenge on the man who betrayed him. Review on Midnight Eye.
  • 1979 Hunter in the Dark (Yami no Karyudo)
    Nakadai Tatsuya plays a one-eyed assassin who impresses a gang boss with his skills, and is hired as bodyguard (yojimbo).
  • 1982 The Life of Hanako Kiryuin (Kiryuin Hanako no Shogai)
    A melodrama about a childless yakuza who adopts a young woman (Natsume Masako), which was a great hit in Japan.
  • 1983 The Geisha (Yokiro)
    Starts Gosha's collaboration with Ogata Ken, who plays a provider of women to a geisha house (zegen) in Kochi, where his own daughter works as the top geisha. The geisha are a tough lot, far removed from the gentility of Kyoto...
  • 1984 Fireflies in the North (Kita no Hotaru)
    Set in the wilderness of Hokkaido, which in the Meiji-period was being opened up with the use of forced labor. Nakadai Tatsuya stars as a brutal prison warden. Also with Tanba Tetsuro and Iwashita Shima.
  • 1985 Oar (Kai)
    Gosha's third and last Miyao Tomiko adaptation. With Ogata Ken and Natori Yuko. Again a story of a zegen, this time one who takes pity on a little girl and brings her up in his own family.
  • 1985 Tracked (Usugesho) Complex narrative about a man (Ogata Ken) who has murdered his wife and daughter and then escapes from jail, with the police hot on his tracks.
  • 1986 The Yakuza Wives (Gokudo no Onnatachi)
    With Iwashita Shima, Katase Rino and Takeuchi Riki. The first independent film in a series of more than 10 installments, based on real tales of yakuza wives interviewed by a journalist. They step in with a strong hand when the husband is dead, in jail or otherwise incapacitated, something which often happens.
  • 1987 Tokyo Bordello (Yoshiwara Enjo)
    The tragic lives of five oiran making a career in the Yoshiwara, with Natori Yuko in the main role. Set in 1911. Story inspired by the nostalgic drawings of Saito Shinichi.
  • 1991 Kagero 
    A Showa-period revenge saga about a female professional gambler (Higuchi Kanako).
  • 1992 The Oil-Hell Murder (Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku)
    Period piece based on a play by Chikamatsu, about the murder of Okichi (Higuchi Kanako), the bored wife of a wealthy Osaka oil merchant.