Samurai Spy

A part of this viewing listCriterion Collection Spine #312: Masahiro Shinoda’s Samurai Spy.

Having read Shusaku Endo’s Silence many years ago, the persecution of Catholicism during the Tokugawa shogunate was something that immediately grabbed me here. It came as only a slight surprise to discover that Masahiro Shinoda directed an adaptation of the book six years after making Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (this movie). Sarutobi Sasuke is an employed samurai in a clan who has yet to take sides in a brewing conflict between Tokugawa and Osaka. Additionally, he has his own ideas in regard to the usefulness of war in the first place. He gets roped in to some espionage and intrigue by being a badass do-gooder in the wrong place at the right time.

Lots of people die. Sasuke gets blamed for murders he doesn’t commit, and no one seems to care about the folks he actually does kill on his was to safety and a modicum of security. The joke here, if you want to call it that, is that Sasuke doesn’t have a goal apart from safely navigating the complicated currents he’s found himself in. Though he’s not explicitly Christian, (nor is he explicitly not Christian), the heavy involvement of a secretive Christian group, and it’s unlikely connection to an apostasized, leprous spymaster gave this samurai film a flavor unlike any other I’ve seen.

It’s also beautiful; shots with maximal depth of field, shifting fog and silences, abstract patterns of light and shadow, and uniquely appropriate camera shifts all evoke the uncertainty of things hidden in plain sight and in shadow.