From the novel of the same name by Yukio Mishima. Scen.: Kazuo Funahashi. F.: Chikashi Makiura. M.: Kanji Suganuma. Scgf.: Akira Naito. Mus.: Sei Ikeno. Int.: Raizo Ichikawa (Jiro Kokubun), Yukiko Fuji (Eri Itami), Yusuke Kawazu (Kagawa), Akio Hasegawa (Mibu), Akitake Kono (Kiuchi), Yuka Konno (Shigeko Fujishiro), Junko Kozakura (Sanae Mibu), Yoshio Inaba (Seiichiro Kokubun), Rieko Sumi (Hiroko Kokubun). Prod.: Hirokaki Fujii, Sadao Zaizen per Daiei – DCP. D.: 95’. Bn.
Misumi worked almost exclusively with period material. This was a rare gendai-geki (film with a contemporary setting), atypical in that and, by comparison with Misumi’s other films of this period, in its austere black-and-white ‘Scope photography (cinematographer Chikashi Makiura was also responsible for the glowing colours of Kenki, among other collaborations with Misumi). More characteristic is the presence of Misumi’s regular star Raizo Ichikawa, playing a college kendo practitioner embroiled in a dangerous rivalry with a fellow participant.
The short story which furnished the film’s plot, first published in 1963, was written by the world-famous author Yukio Mishima (1925-70), himself famously a devotee of kendo and a proponent of samurai values, who was to die, infamously, by seppuku after failing to provoke a military coup. Mishima’s fascination with the extremes of masculine conduct is captured in Misumi’s sweatsoaked closeups and stylishly choreographed scenes of combat.
The “Kinema Junpo” reviewer picked up on the anachronistic quality of Mishima’s values as expressed in Ken, suggesting that, in a postwar era typified by unrestrained liberty, the kendo club might be the only remaining place for strict order and spiritual strength. By depicting “manners that differ from contemporary society”, the kendo theme offered Misumi the chance to create “a jidai-geki set in the gendai” (the present day). The review is oddly negative, claiming that the film is an inadequate copy of its literary source. Yet for Hiroaki Yoshida, the tension of the film lies precisely in the contrast between the attitudes of its two auteurs: Mishima celebrates “beautiful death”, while Misumi’s focus is the struggle to live.
Under the direction of his namesake Kon Ichikawa, Raizo Ichikawa had starred in another Mishima adaptation six years earlier, playing the disturbed acolyte who burns down a Kyoto temple in Enjo (Conflagration, 1958).
Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström