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The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate
Congratulations Nikkatsu for the centennial anniversary! 100 years of history, imagine that!

Salute to the New York Film Festival for picking up 36 of their classic titles to be screened at Lincoln Center, two of which we subtitled. They are Love Hotel and The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate. Both are great movies, the former from the 80s the latter, 50s.

The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate(hereinafter SLDS) is a great mixed bag of slapstick, black comedy, period drama, historical reinterpretation, uncompromisingly replicated period speech based firmly on rakugo comedy, etc.

The rakugo speech mannerism demands the characters to speak in such a way that it is very different from modern Japanese speech and is probably mildly if not entirely difficult for the contemporary Japanese audience to pick up. But the English subtitles ensure that you'll have a thorough, comprehensive, enjoyable and entertaining movie viewing experience both you and the movie deserve, so rest assured.

Fast, reactive, always wise-cracking and elusive, the movie's dialogue is like a series of vaudeville performances, delivered with precision. Oh, the performers from those days...they were so versatile and so wonderful!

Set in 1862, five years before the Shogun's rule ended, in a brothel located in the first Rest Stop on the Tokaido Route that leads to Osaka, the movie spends so much time in the brothel, it almost plays out like a TV sitcom for the eyes accustomed to such convention. But it's not just a light-hearted comedy. Its dark undertone gives the film such an edge sometimes you forget that it's a comedy.

The first joke is the location of the Shinagawa Rest Stop, which is only a few-hour walk from the starting point of the Tokaido Route. Why so close? Why did they have to REST after only walking 4 miles? Yes, you guessed right; To get laid. In those days, as far as regular folks were concerned, women weren't allowed freely to travel and even men had to have a very good reason. One of the good excuses was a pilgrimage to Ise Shrine in what is Mie Prefecture today. Before the adventure of the life time begins, a man's got to get laid(and hopefully on his way back, too). Hence the Shinagawa Stop, thriving with a famous brothel, where much of the movie takes place.

SLDS comprises more than a few rakugo episodes as the basis of the main plot. If you thought it was a bit episodic, this is the very reason why. Dealing with multiple plots and ensemble cast of...how many? the movie has the feel of, say, Robert Altman in his heyday. Characters come in and out of the scenes busily and constantly. Some never come back. Some come back just when you forgot about them and do something very crucial to the story. And all talk a lot, very fast. And they're all schemers/grifters. Most of them, even the samurai revolutionaries who would change the course of Japan by kicking the Shogun out of the throne, are kind of lazy-ass liars and womanizers.

And that has something to with the mysterious title given to the movie, The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate.

Looks like the movie is stuck with the rather elusive name, probably because it's the most commonly found name on the Internet.

The SUN in the title has nothing to do with the Sun as in the star around which the solar system revolves. Not even figuratively or symbolically.

The SUN in the title refers to a bunch of amoral rich brats hanging around, sunbathing on the sunny beach. Yes, SUNbathing brats. Did I lose you here? I bet. Let me explain because it's interesting.

Back in the 1950s Japan, as the scars of WWII were quickly concealed with fast developing economy, a new breed of young people emerged. They were decidedly rebellious, just like their counterparts in the US, they had more money to spare and time to waste than their parents. They formed peer groups and many of them were regarded as delinquents. The advent of the teen culture in Japan. There was none prior to this point in Japanese history.

"Season of the Sun" was a popular novel at the time, depicting the shockingly amoral lives of the young generation. They hung out at the beaches near Tokyo, doing nothing productive, looking for trouble or lounging on the beach under the Sun. Hence "Season of the Sun." And a journalist concocted a word for those guys, "the Sun Tribe" (or the Sun Generation or the Generation Sun). Japan's equivalent of the JDs of the American 50s.

The Sun tribe represented those who were socially middle class, morally unsound, sexually promiscuous and ethically unpredictable. Defiant, antisocial, apathetic, apolitical. How do all these relate to The Sun in the Last Days of Shogunate, a period comedy?

The characters in the SLDS all behave like tricksters. They all scheme. They steal, they deceive, they double-cross. The SLDS characters do not behave how we were taught they would in the history textbook. They're like...yes, the Sun Tribe teenagers! Amoral slackers/rebels.

With the popularity of the Sun Tribe concept at the time(mid 50s), the word SUN found its way to be adhered to a period comedy. A marketing ploy? I wouldn't deny it. One more thing to support my theory is that SLDS has Yujiro Ishihara, the star of "Season of the Sun" the movie!

Now you know why SLDS has absolutely nothing to with the Sun, the star.

The Legend of the Sun Tribe at the End of the Shogunate. This is the word-by-word translation of the original title. Its name is like...uh, how can I best explain it? Remember Young Guns? You refuse to? I understand. But just bear with me and think a minute about Young Guns(sorry for the use of profanity) for a moment, just so that I can explain the naming mentality of SLDS effectively.

Picture this. You make a western genre movie with young and pretty actors acting like they are in the frontier with the attitude of the Reagan-80s. And you call it "The Gene-X Legend of the Wild West." That's what the original Japanese title of SLDS is like, not in spirit but in naming mentality only.

Sadly the current English title misses all those but oh well! You thought it had some symbolic meaning, like...Japan as the nation of rising Sun and stuff like that? You can say that the cheerful survivor attitudes commonly held by the characters are symbolized as the Sun in the time of a great change. Sounds all right to me.

Interestingly the protagonist, the grifter who's hard to be tamed, suffers from TB and he's not just "the bright future of Japan." With the phantom of death looming over him more obviously as the story unfolds, he is both the bright future to come and the dark past to be left behind. He's the jester in the plot, the bridge between the past and the future, and a sounding board for all other characters. He possesses the quality that enables him to adapt both to the feudal Japan and the modernizing Japan. This ambivalence is what gives SLDS unique quality, makes it one of the kind.

Mystery solved. Did I make it understood or did I further perplex you?
Well the title lost its original meaning as the 50s fad faded but the movie itself stays just as original as the day it was released probably owing to the fact it's a period drama to begin with.

Forget that I mentioned Young Guns because SLDS is hell of a lot better movie than that. And it's quite different from many Japanese period movies you're familiar with. Worth a trip to the Lincoln Center!

It's a hell of a movie, beautifully shot, seamlessly directed, awesomely acted, the set impressively constructed, the period
atmosphere completely replicated.

We'll write about Love Hotel when we had a minute!

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