A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji

A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (Chiyari Fuji; 血槍富士), 1955

Other titles: A Bloody Spear on Mount Fuji, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji1 (alternate English titles); Blood Spear, Fuji (literal English title); Le Mont Fuji et la lance ensanglantée (alternate French title); A Lança Ensanguentada (alternate Portuguese title)

Production CompanyToei (Kyoto)
ScenaristsMimura Shintarō, Tamikado Toshio and Yahiro Fuji
SourceInoue Kintarō (story for the original 1927 film)
Remake ofDochu hiki (A Traveler’s Journey of Sorrow, 1927), dir: Inoue Kintarō
PlannersMakino Mitsuo, Tamaki Jun’ichirō
Advisors to the ProductionOzu Yasujirō, Shimizu Hiroshi, Itō Daisuke2
CinematographerYoshida Sadaji
Art DirectorSuzuki Takatoshi
MusicKosugi Taiichirō
EditingMiyamoto Shintarō
PerformersKataoka Chiezō (Gonpachi, Kojūrō’s spear carrier);3 Katō Daisuke (Genta, Kojūrō’s retainer); Kataoka Eijirō [as Shimada Teruo] (Sakawa Kojūrō, a samurai); Tsukigata Ryūnosuke (Tōzaburō, a traveler); Kitagawa Chizuru (Osumi, a female samisen player); Tashiro Yuriko (Otane, a village woman); Shindō Eitarō (a pilgrim); Ueki Motoharu (Jirō, an orphan boy); Ueki Chie (Okin, daughter of Osumi); Kuga Kanio (Denji, a government officer); Yoshida Yoshio (Kyubei, a brothel owner); Yokoyama Unpei (Yomosaku, father of Otane)
StatusExtant
PhotographyBlack and White
Format35mm
Ratio1:37:1
English SubtitlesYes
Original Release DateFebruary 27, 1955
Length94 minutes
Awards and festival/retrospective screeningsKinema Junpo Best Ten (at #8); Blue Ribbon Award: Katō Daisuke, Best Supporting Actor; Tokyo Intl. Film Festival (1994); Tokyo FILMeX (2004); IFFR (International Film Festival of Rotterdam, 2005); Melbourne International Film Festival (2005); Tokyo Intl. Film Festival (2008); MOMA Retrospective (2016)

Synopsis

A group of travelers in the Tokugawa era are walking via the famous Tokaido road towards the capital, Edo (now Tokyo). Among them are a young samurai, Sakawa Kojūrō, and two of his retainers: the middle-aged Gonpachi, a spear carrier, and the somewhat younger Genta. Journeying with them are an elderly man, Yomosaku, and his beautiful daughter, Otane; an itinerant Buddhist priest; Osumi, a female samisen player and her very young daughter, Okin; a mysterious man, Tōzaburō, who is being pursued by a suspicious officer of the government, Denji; and an orphan boy, Jirō. Before the travelers cross over the river by ferry boat, they are warned by border guards to be on the lookout for the notorious thief, Rokuemon. The boy, Jirō, does not take the boat, but swims across the river, following the travelers.

Shortly after they reach the other side, Kojūrō gives Gonpachi part of his supply of ointment to treat blisters on his feet, while the samurai and Genta continue in the direction of the town. Stopping by the road to tend to his foot, Gonpachi meets Jirō, to whom he soon warms when he discovers that the boy wants to be a spear carrier himself when he grows up. Gonpachi demonstrates to him the way a spear carrier should walk and allows him to hold his spear, but is embarrassed when this demonstration is witnessed by the bemused Osumi and her daughter.

When Gonpachi reaches the town, he finds the inn at which his master and Genta are staying and gives Jirō some money. Tōzaburō is forced to share his room at the same inn with Denji. Denji reveals that he had earlier observed Tōzaburō in a field, counting out a large sum of money – a claim the latter vehemently denies. It’s clear that Denji suspects Tōzaburō of being the thief Rokuemon in disguise.

Genta stops by the kitchen of the inn to enjoy some sake, and reveals to the maids how his master, Kojūrō, becomes violent and irrational when drunk. Kojūrō, at some distance away, overhears this conversation about himself. Gonpachi catches Genta drinking and impresses on him how wrong it is for him to drink on the job, especially since they have been ordered by Kojūrō’s mother to prevent their master from consuming alcohol. Genta apologizes for this lapse. The now sober Genta shows Kojūrō an antique tea bowl they are carrying with them to Edo – the reason for their journey.

Investigating officers arrive at Denji’s room, but he, despite his suspicions, doesn’t hand Tōzaburō over to them. Yet in a subsequent interrogation, Tōzaburō is so uncommunicative that Denji, infuriated, requests that the officers return to arrest him, only to be told by a maid that they’ve already left.

At the town’s festival, Jirō uses Gonpachi’s money to buy persimmons, which he foolishly gobbles down. There he meets Osumi, who gives the boy a flask of ointment that Gonpachi had left behind on the road, so he can return it to the spear carrier. When Jirō gives the flask to Gonpachi, he suggests that Gonpachi go find the woman to thank her. Gonpachi and the boy go to the festival, where the two witness Osumi and her daughter entertaining the crowd with “The Servant’s Dance,” a parody of Gonpachi. The spear carrier withdraws, embarrassed.

Meanwhile, Genta and Kojūrō have also gone to the festival, and the latter disobeys his mother’s orders and goes into a sake bar, much to Genta’s distress. But Kojūrō tells him that he only did this so he could buy him the sake he craves, away from Gonpachi’s prying eyes, and then leave. However, as Kojūrō is about to go, Genta suggests that Kojūrō have something to eat first, and his master replies that he will also take just a drop of sake “for show.”

Soon both master and servant are roaring drunk. The now-belligerent Kojūrō sees a peddler at another table and threatens him. He draws his sword and chases the peddler and his friends out into the street. Genta and Gonpachi (who has stumbled onto the scene) subdue their master with great difficulty.

Before the entrance to a tiny, abandoned house on the outskirts of town where Jirō is squatting, Gonpachi tends to the unconscious Kojūrō, while cursing Genta (who’s also sleeping) for shirking his duty. Osumi and her daughter arrive to help Gonpachi and Kojūrō. Osumi and Gonpachi lift the samurai and carry him through the streets to bring him back to the inn, while Jirō kicks the sleeping Genta awake.

The next day, the samurai’s party proceeds on its journey while being observed by Jirō from the top of a tree. Jirō’s attention is suddenly caught by the Buddhist pilgrim near the river, and the boy realizes that he is actually the thief Rokuemon in disguise. He cries out, but the branch he’s sitting on breaks, and he tumbles into a ditch at the foot of the tree. Seeing this, Gonpachi hurries over to give him some ointment from his flask to soothe his wounds.

After the samurai party, with Jirō, move on some distance, the travelers’ passage is blocked by a party of aristocrats, who have stopped traffic in both directions so they can enjoy a picnic by the side of the road with a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji. Jirō has an attack of diarrhea as a result of eating too many persimmons at the festival, and is brought to the side of the road by Gonpachi to defecate, upwind from the aristocrat’s party. The noblemen smell the stench, but are unable to identify its source. A sudden rain shower breaks out, ending the impromptu picnic and allowing the travelers to proceed.

They reach the next town, Shimada, while it’s still raining heavily. All the travelers lodge at the inn. The elderly father reluctantly prepares to sell his daughter, Otane, to the local brothel owner, Kyubei, for thirty silver coins. Osumi is appalled and comforts Otane, but the young woman seems to have accepted the situation, due to her family’s poverty. However, Kojūrō, who has witnessed all this, resolves to find the money to prevent Otane from being sold. He removes Gonpachi’s spear from its place on the wall and runs off in the rain to a local weapons merchant to pawn it.

An employee at the inn warns the still-sleeping guests that the thief Rokuemon is in the area. His announcement awakens Genta and Gonpachi, and the latter notices that both Kojūrō and his own spear have disappeared. He leaves the inn to seek his master.

Rokuemon, still disguised as a Buddhist priest, prepares to leave the inn when he accidentally steps on a demon mask owned by Jirō, who awakens and recognizes the “priest” as the thief he spotted while in the tree. The man tries in vain to calm the boy, but the latter reveals the telltale tattoos on the man’s arms. He escapes and runs downstairs. The boy jumps on the thief’s back to prevent his leaving the house as others also try to detain him. Rokuemon, enraged, pulls a knife and threaten to kill them. Just as he is about to depart, Gonpachi, smiling, returns to the inn with his spear – which Kojūrō hadn’t pawned after all – and, completely ignorant of what is happening, holds Rokuemon at spear-point while the other men seize and disarm the criminal.

A local official bestows upon Kojūrō a certificate as a reward for the capture of Rokuemon. When Kojūrō points out that it was really Gonpachi who was responsible for the thief’s capture, the official responds that only the master should be acknowledged because “a retainer’s achievement is his master’s achievement.” The official also confirms that the certificate will be Kojūrō’s only reward: no money or other benefit will be forthcoming.4

Later, Gonpachi tells his master that this incident will surely enhance the spear’s reputation. Kojūrō then informs him that the spear, which they’d always believed to be an authentic heirloom from the early Tokugawa period, was identified by the shop owner to whom he’d recently tried to pawn it as a worthless replica. Kojūrō laughs at the irony that a fake spear had earned him a fake reward.

Meanwhile, Tōzaburō goes to the brothel to buy back his daughter, Oshina, whom he had been forced years earlier, due to his poverty, to sell into prostitution. At the time, the man had made an agreement with Kyubei, giving him the right to redeem his daughter’s contract and set her free if he could get the money, and thus he’d worked in the mines for many years to earn it. But the madam casually informs him that Oshina had died two years earlier; no one had bothered to inform Tōzaburō. The man bursts into tears.

Back at the inn, Kyubei presents to Yomosaku the signed contract for the sale of Otane, along with the agreed-upon thirty pieces of silver, and, much to the distress of the other travelers, orders Otane to leave with him. The tearful young woman takes her place in Kyubei’s palanquin and his servants leave with her, just as the distraught Tōzaburō returns to the inn.

Tōzaburō goes upstairs and reads the signed agreement on the floor. Seeing the thirty silver pieces in front of the sorrowful old man, he becomes enraged. He seizes the contract and the money, giving the old man the larger sum he had intended to use to buy back Oshina, and leaves the inn.

Tōzaburō catches up with Kyubei’s party in the street and accuses the brothel owner of killing Oshina, which he denies. Tōzaburō tells Otane that she is free to go back home to her village rather than go with Kyubei, and he tries to give Kyubei back his contract and his silver. Kyubei’s men apprehend Tōzaburō, but Denji the government officer, witnessing this, sets Tōzaburō free and apologizes for having suspected him of being the thief. He orders Kyubei in the name of the law to hand over Otane’s contract, which he gives to Tōzaburō. The latter beats Kyubei, whose thirty coins fall onto the muddy ground.

Gonpachi, preparing to depart the inn, asks Osumi where Jirō is, and she informs him that he’s outside, playing on the beach with her daughter Okin. Gonpachi watches with pleasure the innocent games of the two children. Meanwhile, inside the inn, Tōzaburō, Otane and Yomosaku – who are leaving to return to their respective villages – express their gratitude to Kojūrō. After they go, Kojūrō tells Genta that he envies these simple people. The samurai then suddenly leaves the inn without saying where he’s going, and the bewildered Genta follows him.

They pass a tavern and Kojūrō goes inside, followed by his nervous servant. In the tavern courtyard, the samurai orders sake and demands that Genta sit across from him and drink with him, though he clearly wants to do neither.

As they are drinking, five samurai from the party of a lord who’s just arrived in town enter the tavern, and are offended to find Kojūrō and his retainer drinking together as equals – a clear violation of samurai protocol. When Kojūrō sees several of these samurai manhandling the women in their party, he tries to stop them. One of the men calls Kojūrō an unworthy samurai for drinking with his servant. He insults them back, and the five samurai draw their swords, as the women flee in terror.

The samurai surround Kojūrō and Genta, who pleads with them – and with his master – to stop, but neither side will back down. The samurai stab and kill the unarmed Genta. Kojūrō fights the other samurai fiercely, but is eventually cornered. Meanwhile, a peddler (the same one who was threatened by Kojūrō at the festival) runs to the inn to inform Gonpachi of the situation. Gonpachi grabs his spear and rushes out into the street to defend his master. Back at the tavern, the samurai simultaneously attack Kojūrō with their swords, and he falls dead beside Genta.

Gonpachi forces his way through the curious crowd, but he is too late. He curses the murderous samurai, who laugh at the thought of a mere spear carrier threatening them. Maddened with rage, Gonpachi flails about with his spear like a man possessed, terrifying the samurai, who try to fight back but can’t get close enough to strike at him. Gonpachi alternately beats and stabs them with his spear, and Jirō and others in the courtyard beat back the samurai who are desperately trying to escape the courtyard to prevent them from doing so.

In the chaos, the spear carrier pierces several sake barrels stacked in the courtyard, and the spilled alcohol turns the ground all around them to mud. Finally, only one samurai is left alive, and he and Gonpachi flail about on the filthy ground until the latter retrieves his spear and kills him. Gonpachi weeps over the body of his master until the authorities arrive to arrest him.

Somewhat later, an official announces that, because no samurai would be stupid enough to get himself killed by a mere spear carrier, Gonpachi will not be punished for the killing of the five samurai. Gonpachi, free to go, sets out to resume his journey to Edo to deliver the tea bowl to Kojūrō’s mother – minus his master and his fellow servant.

When Jirō begs Gonpachi to let him continue to accompany him on his travels, the latter rudely dismisses the boy and warns him never to become a spear carrier. As the boy tearfully watches his former hero depart, he curses him as a “mean old bastard.”5

(Continued on Page 2)

Footnotes

  1. Although the title is usually given – e.g., on the commercially-released Blu-ray – without being preceded by the indefinite article, this usage strikes me as ungrammatical in English.
  2. Mizoguchi Kenji is often cited as having assisted this production, and he may well have done so informally. But so far as I know, Uchida’s son Yusaku, in a 2005 video interview, has given the only confirmation I’ve found of this claim. See “Uchida by Uchida” [“Uchida par Uchida”], interview supplement, in Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (Blu-Ray), Arrow Academy, 2018.
  3. The character’s name is sometimes rendered in English as Genpachi.
  4. Actually, it is neither Kojūrō nor Gonpachi who should have been rewarded for the capture of Rokuemon, but the orphan boy Jirō, who identified the dangerous thief and then climbed onto the man’s back, holding on bravely (and hilariously) to prevent his escape.
  5. Kishi Fumiko, in her book, Manei and I, about her life at the Man’ei studios in Manchukuo [occupied Manchuria] and subsequent adventures in Communist China with Uchida, points out that the music in the final scene of this movie ironically incorporates the Japanese war song, “Umi Yukaba,” which praises the glory of dying for the emperor. Kishi remarked that the use of the song “feels uncomfortable” and thought the song communicated Uchida’s conflicted emotions. (Uchida’s son Yusaku also remarked on the song’s inclusion in the video interview included on the Blu-ray release of the film cited above.) Kishi Fumiko and Ishii Taeko, Man’ei to Watashi [Man’ei and I], p. 298. Bungei Shunju, 2015. ISBN 9784163903149. (Translated for the author by Hayley Scanlon.)

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