Tange Sazen is one of Japan’s most popular samurai characters, the equivalent of Zorro or The Lone Ranger here in the States. Legendary actor Kinnosuke Nakamura (Lone Wolf and Cub series) plays the infamous one-eyed, one-armed wild man of a ronin, whose injuries were received at the hands of a treacherous chamberlain who used Sazen's loyalty for his own nefarious purposes. Now Tange lives out his days in bitterness and mental instability, but like his blade, his samurai skills haven't dulled any, sadly proving it to those who dare challenge him. He soon gets caught up in an adventure when he comes across a tea urn inscribed with secret writing that leads to a fortune in gold coins. What he doesn't know is that the urn and gold belong to the Yagyu clan, with the very fate of the clan depending on that fortune. Add in a few other factions also trying to get their hands on it, and plenty of sword action, and you got yourself a classic samurai film.
Directed by Hideo Gosha and originally released in 1966, The Secret of the Urn (Tange Sazen: Hien Iaigiri) is widely regarded as one of the greats of samurai cinema. It shows throughout the film, as it tends to have a more realistic level of screen violence, with some interesting camera movements that give off a sense of kinetic urgency that set it apart from other samurai films of the time. Not to take away credit from the other cast members who play their parts wonderfully, but the real energy of the film comes from the way Kinnosuke Nakamura portrays Tange's wild and insane nature both in and out of battle, making it difficult to picture anyone else bringing such swagger to the character.
AnimEigo's treatment offers a clean and colorful anamorphic transfer on DVD, with the original Japanese language track being just as clean and polished as the picture. The subtitles for their releases are always a treat, to, as they feature color-coding to differentiate between speakers and interesting pop-up notes that clarify crucial plot points and minor details for newcomers to Japanese history. Supplements include a theatrical trailer, program notes (which repeat some of the information from the subtitles), biographies for the key cast and crew members, and an image gallery.
The Secret of the Urn (Tange Sazen: Hien Iaigiri) is what it is; an enjoyable, action packed, samurai film for those who like their sword slashing adventures short and to the point. Diehard samurai film fans have long considered this to be one of the most entertaining chapters in the long-running Tange Sazen series, thanks in part to Kinnosuke Nakamura's legendary portrayal of this crazed, yet skilled ronin warrior, and should be required viewing for any fan looking to take a break from the Long Wolf and Cub series. AnimEigo's treatment is about as good as you'd expect, with a clean print that makes the film look and sound better than ever before, complete with enough extras to make it a truly cultural event. If you're looking for a simple and fun samurai classic, this film might just win you over.
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