Thursday, September 10, 2020


Vagabond gambler Monjiro (Bunta Sugawara) is tricked into serving time at Miyake Island penal colony for a yakuza killing he didn't commit, then escapes to track down the former friend who betrayed him. In addition to his superior swordsmanship, Monjiro can also turn his homemade toothpicks into projectile eyeball skewers. The awkward structuring in the first act was probably done in post-production to fix pacing issues; it annoyed me both times I watched the film, which is otherwise a stylish, compelling combination of matatabi eiga and prison escape actioner. The title was MONJIRO THE DEADLY SWORDSMAN when it opened in Honolulu on November 15, 1972. Based on the novel Kogarashi Monjirō by Saho Sasazawa, its success spawned a sequel later the same year, KOGARASHI MONJIRO 2: SECRET OF MONJIRO'S BIRTH.

In the sequel, the wandering swordsman finds his long-lost older sister Omitsu (Etsuko Ichihara) working in a brothel, rescues novice gambler Tsunehei (Kunie Tanaka) from murderous bandits, and dodges hired swords in the employ of the vengeful Imai Group, whose boss was killed by Monjiro in a yakuza duel. The title is a misnomer – there's not much of a “secret” here – but the Toshiaki Tsushima score is really good, the swordplay and eyeball piercing projectile toothpicks still work the second time around, and I wish every sequel had Kunie Tanaka and Kyosuke Machida in it. I'm surprised these Monjiro adventures didn't play the U.S. samurai circuit of the '70s, because they're just as good as some of the ones that did make the rounds (the SHADOW HUNTERS and TRAIL OF BLOOD films, for example). This was Sugawara's second and last time playing Monjiro. However, Atsuo Nakamura took over the role later the same year for a television series that was written and directed by Kon Ichikawa, and two decades later Nakamura and Ichikawa brought the character back for a 1993 feature, KAETTEKITE KOGARASHI MONJIRO.

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