Feeling a bit under the weather today, so after running some errands, I decided to stay in and take it easy. Fortunately, I had a great movie to keep me company: Tomu Uchida’s Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji.
Now that I’ve finally seen this long-overlooked jidaigeki masterpiece in all its digitally-restored splendor (having read about it years ago on a samurai film fan blog), I understand why it took so long to get an official U.S. release: in terms of its genre and tone, it’s difficult to classify (and, consequently, to market to a specific audience). What begins as a lighthearted comedy deconstructing class conflicts in feudal Japan (an aging servant allows a curious orphan to carry his spear, and has a little too much fun play-acting as his strict “master”; a pompous noble’s outdoor tea ceremony is interrupted by a sick peasant’s emergency bathroom break) gradually takes a darker turn, exploring the repercussions of its characters’ disregard for social norms and meditating on the cruelty of a system that regards certain people as inherently inferior (the unusual sight of a commoner sharing sake with his lord, for example, becomes a lot less funny when the latter winds up being a mean, belligerent drunk).
From toilet humor to tear-jerking melodrama to tense, violent duels, Bloody Spear sounds as though it should suffer from an identity crisis, but the narrative unfolds naturally and organically enough to avoid such pitfalls. Like the similarly under-appreciated Humanity and Paper Balloons (currently streaming on Criterion’s FilmStruck channel), its multifaceted storytelling captures the full essence of life itself—both the sweet and the bitter.
For a slightly less obscure frame of reference: imagine Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights… except at the end, gangsters suddenly burn down the blind woman’s flower shop, sending The Tramp into an uncontrollable rage as he mercilessly slaughters each and every one of them.
[Originally written September 15, 2018.]