I was recently able to add a few long-desired films to my Criterion collection, one of which was Kill!, a 1968 film directed by Kihachi Okamoto. The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai and Etsushi Takahashi as Genta and Hanji respectively, two swordsmen who quickly find themselves neck-deep in a clan conspiracy.
It should be noted that Kill! was adapted from the same novel that Akira Kurosawa used to create Sanjuro (1962), and if you’ve seen that film you might note a few loose similarities between the two. For example, in both films the conspirators are tricked into gathering in a supposedly safe place while they’re really being set up to be eliminated. For another there’s at least one good case in each film of a supposedly sympathetic character turning out to be on the side of the villains. These are just a few examples of the similarities, though it’s almost an unfair comparison since Sanjuro adapts Toshiro Mifune’s Yojimbo character into the story and Kill! features two characters in the lead role instead.
The contrast between Genta and Hanji is interesting to say the least. I’ve seen Tatsuya Nakadai in several films now but I don’t remember seeing him play a character quite like this before, one who walked away from being a samurai and all that it entails for reasons that take a big chunk of the film to unravel. And Hanji is just funny most of the time. In contrast to Genta, who used to be a samurai, Hanji wants more than anything else to become one (which if I remember correctly would be a major step up the social ladder from being a farmer), despite everything Genta says to try and turn him off from the idea. I’ll just say the conclusion of Hanji’s story arc had me howling with laughter, it was so fitting given everything that happened throughout the story.
While I mostly enjoyed watching Kill!, I will say the plot involving the conspiracy is a little hard to follow at times. It’s mostly straightforward, but there are so many people involved that if you’re not paying close attention at all times it’s easy to lose track of who is who. I’m not sure if this is because I had to follow the subtitles to keep track of the story or if the story alone was the reason.
I also need to mention Kill! has a lot of genuinely funny moments in it. There’s a funny early scene where Genta and Hanji both are stalking a scrawny chicken because they’re just that hungry (a moment that’s repeated in hilarious fashion later on). There is also a hysterically funny scene with Hanji, his sandal, and a wooden post. I honestly can’t explain the moment any better than that without spoiling what exactly happens, but it’s one of my favorite moments in the entire film. The comedy does a good job of brightening a story that otherwise has some extremely dark moments in it (it’s a black comedy for a reason).
All in all, I’m glad I finally got to watch Kill! It filled in another gap in my knowledge of Japanese cinema and minor issues aside it was a lot of fun to watch.
Let me know what you think about Kill! in the comments below and have a great day!
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