Somber Samurai


Little-known in these parts, genre director Tai Kato (1916­1985), subject of a nine-film retro at Japan Society (March 19 through May 21),
was a master of relentlessly somber, beautifully crafted samurai and yakuza flicks. Born in Kobe, he went to Tokyo to apprentice with his uncle, Sadao Yamanaka, the best Japanese period-film director of the 1930s. Kato started
making his own films in 1951, and, by the time of Love for a Mother (1962), had developed
a style based on extremely
long takes and very low-angle shots— he went so far as to dig holes in the ground for the camera. Love is that oddity,
an action weepie, the tale of a lonely gambler trying to find the mother who abandoned him as a child. It stars irresistible pretty boy Kinnosuke Nakamura, a teen idol who bears an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley. Equally stylish, but considerably more violent, Blood of Revenge (1965), plays out a turf war through a complicated
series of assassinations and fascinating gangland succession rituals. In its smashing
climax, the hero jumps from
a speeding train through the closed window of the bad guys’ hideout, sword in hand. Top that, Jackie Chan.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 16, 1999

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