Ansatsu (Assassination) (1964) 

 

 

 

Director:     Masahiro Shinoda.

Starring:      Tetsur Tanba (Hachiro Kiyokawa),  Eiji Okada (Lord Matsudaira),  Eitar Ozawa (Premier Itakura),  Isao Kimura (Tadasaburo Sasaki),  Muga Takewaki (Shingo Miyagawa),  Shima Iwashita (Oren, Kiyokawa's sweetheart),  Keiji Sada.

Kiyokawa Hachiro & initial phase of Shinsengumi, the Shogun's corp of ex-ronin, fighting anarchy in the Imperial capital Kyoto

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"At 5 o'clock on July 8, 1853 four American warships arrived at Uraga Port.  The 300 year policy of seclusion that had fostered a belief of Japan as a Divine Land faced a crisis as a result of this invasion.  Consequently, anti-foreign sentiments developed, fanned by advocates of imperialism.  The Shogun's Edo (Tokyo) government, however, had no confidence in fighting, lacking the military power of the Americans.  The Premier, Li Naosuke, decided to open the country without consulting the Emperor.  To suppress his antagonists, he imprisoned and executed anti-foreign and imperialist leaders.  On March 3, 1860 on his way to his office, on a public street in Edo, Premier Li was assassinated by a band of imperialist ronin.  The assassination disgraced the Shogunate and shook its foundations.  Alarmed, the Shogunate hatched a plan arranging marriage between Emperor Komei's sister, Princess Kazu, and Shogun Lemochi.  Through the unification with the Royal Court, the Shogunate hoped to survive the crisis.  However the Kyoto royalty demanded the Shogunate expel the foreigners from Japan.  In this double-edged turmoil, the Shogunate entered the 3rd year of Bunkyu, or 1863."

An official reads a letter from the Prime Minister, Suo Itakura, asking that he might shelter Kiyokawa Hachiro, from Shonai, Dewa Province, because he might prove of great use to the Premier. This Hachiro fellow killed a policeman, but the Premier requested and got an acquittal for the man.  The official now firmly says to Hachiro:  "Behave yourself!"    

Premier Itakura's Residence.  The Premier questions the use of his name by an underling, Matsudaira, to get Kiyokawa Hachiro's acquittal.  The official says that they need this man to organize the Free Samurai Army.  This man will be able to attract and mobilize the ronin.   The Premier is worried about this Kiyokawa because he has heard that he is the leader of the Emperor Worship movement.  He also asks what kind of man can just change his loyalties from Emperor to Shogun in the blink of an eye? 

Kiyokawa asks his acquaintance Sakamoto, why he tore down Kiyokawa's wanted poster from the wall and not his own?  Sakamoto says that's because Kiyokawa has amnesty, but Sakamoto does not.  Kiyokawa sees three Samurai coming their way and he tells Sakamoto he better get out of here.  He also tells him to get a bath once in awhile, because he stinks.  Sakamoto just laughs at this last statement.

Matsudaira questions Samurai Sasaki about Kiyokawa.  The fellow says that Kiyokawa criticizes the Shogunate and wants to bring it down.  He is from a family of farmers and is not a samurai by birth.  Kiyokawa also ran a school for academics and fencing in Edo.  He is an accomplished swordsman from the Itto School.  Matsudaira now asks Sasaki how many men has he himself killed?  Only two.  Now comes the most important question:  What would you say if I asked you to kill a man trained in the Hokushi Itto style of swordsmanship?  He doesn't want the man killed right away.  It may not even be necessary to kill the guy.  He will let Sasaki now when, if that day comes.  He says this could save the Shogunate. 

Sasaki is teaching swordsmanship.  On a break he sees a samurai coming toward him.  He asks who is he and the fellow says he's Kiyokawa Hachiro.  Hachiro says that Yamaoka Tetsutaro must be here. His friend Yamaoka comes out and says hello to Hachiro.  He introduces the two men formally.  Professor Sasaki is of the Fushin School and he is the best at the academy.  Now the professor says he is Sasaki Tadasaburo.  All this time Sasaki has been very stiff and he has to be filled with a lot of curiosity about a man he may have to kill.

Ronin who have seen the notice of employment are flooding the yard.  Matsudaira is happy about this.  He tells Sasaki that they will select 50 of the most able ronin.  Sasaki says he was going to pick out 50, but Kiyokawa Hachiro came and said they were going to hire all the ronin.  And that's not all.  Kiyokawa said they will also hire any ronin that they may know.  The new hires will be guarding the safety of the Shogun family when it visits Kyoto (a city in the central part of the island of Honshū). 

Matsudaira talks with Kiyokawa saying that the fellow misunderstood the assignment.  Kiyokawa says it was to go to Kyoto and wipe out the Imperial samurai, in order to stabilize the Shogunate.  He also tells Matsudaira that they don't understand that in today's Kyoto it is a killing field.  The deserters from Satsuma, Choshu and Doshu have joined with the lower class of ronin as Emperor worshippers. Any one who opposes them will be killed.  He adds that 50 ronin cannot deal with the Emperor worshippers because the later are "mercenary sewer rats". 

Matsudaira says its 50 men to be paid 50 ryos each.  Kiyokawa says he will go out and tell the ronin that the Shogunate is broke and they just can't pay all of them.  This makes Matsudaira very angry. 

A very worried samurai looks over the mass of ronin gathered together.  He goes to the palace to say that Kiyokawa has changed sides.  He now is a Shogunate dog.  The samurai there says they should kill Kiyokawa as soon as possible.  A young man named Shingo says he finds it hard to believe that a man like Kiyokawa would make this change.  He says he can't kill Kiyokawa.  The informant says that Kiyokawa is a menace.  He was pardoned for killing a police officer and now he is helping to set up this Free Samurai Army.  Shingo says that Kiyokawa saved his life once. 

Flashback.  Five men were trying to kill Shingo because he was an Emperor worshipper, but Kiyokawa stopped them, saying the fellow is too young to kill. 

Back to the present.  The other samurai say that Kiyokawa is just a coward and that the guy has never even killed anyone.  Shingo says Kiyokawa is an expert swordsman.  So the leader says Shingo can bow out of the assassination.  They still have five men to do the job.  Aizawa says that five isn't enough to face Kiyokawa.  He goes on saying the man's sword is a madman's sword. 

Flashback.  Aizawa tells of an incident where some tough guys were pushing around some other guys.  Kiyokawa came up to the leader, who tries to see Kiyokawa's face underneath his large sun hat.  He says why not show me your face?  Kiyokawa cuts the man's head off with one stroke. 

Back to the present.  Sasaki wants to know more about this Kiyokawa.  He  checks with the head of police, who confirms that the incident occurred as described by Aizawa. 

Flashback.  The head of police says that the head of the dead man still had the smile caught on the victim's face.  Kiyokawa started walking away, but others in the gang started calling him a coward who runs away.  So, Kiyokawa starts to go towards the men, who now run backwards.  The samurai gather around Kiyokawa and push him back so that no one else is killed.  So the gang members start insulting Kiyokawa verbally again.  They start throwing things at Kiyokawa and the group of samurai, who all now retreat. 

The gang starts running after Kiyokawa.  Kiyokawa is able to outrun them.  But that night an arrest warrant is issued for Kiyokawa and his fellow Emperor worshippers.  The police encircle his house and then go in.  Kiyokawa is not there so there start whacking away at his mistress Oren to get her to talk.  She is not talking, so they stop paddling her and release her from the ropes binding her hands.  She still won't talk, so she is hit on the back again.  She is now tortured by having large slabs of rock put on her back and on her legs.  Later when the head of the police checked on her in her cell, she was dead. 

Back to the present.  The police chief says he has Oren's diary, which he found when checking through the house.  If Sasaki wants to know about Kiyokawa, he's to be found in the pages of the diary.  So Sasaki takes the diary and starts reading it. 

Flashback.  Oren writes that she was sold to a brothel.  The madam had to struggle very hard to get Oren into the room with a customer.  He has her pour some tea for him, but she is clumsy and spills some on the customer.  The customer is none other than Kiyokawa.  He flies into a bit of a rage and manhandles Oren somewhat.  It's not really her that he's mad at, but rather he feels bitter that the promise that samurai would be promoted on the basis of their ability and not their social class was not honored.  Kiyokawa was the top student and yet he is jobless. 

He has sex with the girl and realizes that she is a virgin.  He starts laughing very hard telling her she is just oh, so innocent.  Her name is Okufu, but Kiyokawa tells her that from now on her named is Oren.  Then he tells Oren to go get her owner because he is going to buy her freedom.  He adds:  "You're perfect for Hachiro the farmer." 

Oren now works for Kiyokawa.  News comes in that Mito men assassinated premier Li outside Sakurada Gate!  The men are so happy about this. 

Kiyokawa tells Oren not to let anyone come into the house.  A little later Kiyokawa comes back in and asks her to make up his bed in the living room.  He looks exhausted from something.  He says to her:  "Blood splashed, Oren." He says he killed a man for the first time.  Oren and Hachiro hug each other and he says:  "Oren, don't leave my side." 

Back to the present.  Sasaki stops reading the diary and says:  "I can kill him."

One of Sasaki's students  is talking to Sakamoto, an instructor.  He asks Sakamoto what does he think about this Kiyokawa?  Sakamoto says he's a multi-talented man.  He can master anything his mind wants to master.  He is also a good writer and is very eloquent in his speech. 

Flashback.  Sakamoto says he moved to Kyoto and there he was surrounded by ronin who were Emperor worshippers.  There were so many ronin running around that it actually changes the atmosphere of Kyoto.  One day walking down a hall he runs into Kiyokawa.  They go have something to drink.  The instructor mentions all the ronin running around Kyoto and Kiyokawa tells him that it was he who had all the ronin come to the capital.  Why?  Kiyokawa says:  "I'm going to start a war to defeat the Shogunate."

Kiyokawa asks if the instructor knows about the Satsuma clan?  Sakamoto says he knows that Lord Shimazu left Satsuma with a 1,000-man army.  And now he's at the Satsuma Clan House in Osaka (southwest of Kyoto and east of Kobe;  all three cities make up the Keihanshin area).  Kiyokawa says he and his ronin are going to attack the Kyoto governor.  They will coordinate with Prince Nakagawa and get Shimazu and his Satsuma army to join them.  After they control Kyoto, they will overthrow the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to his rightful place.   Kiyokawa tells Sakamoto that the ronin in Kyoto are under his command.  He then laughs and laughs.

Back to the present.  Sakamoto says he didn't really think such an ambitious project was possible, so he didn't put much credence in it.  And he knew that Lord Shimazu had no wish to overthrow the Shogunate.  Instead the Lord wanted to be the arbitrator between the Shogunate and the Emperor.  He wanted power in Edo. 

Flashback.  Lord Shimazu learns that the ronin who had deserted from his clan are planning a revolt.  He tells his staff that they must tell their ronin to come back to the Clan House.  If they won't come, they are to be killed in the name of the Shogunate.  Shimazu has eight very skilled swordsmen had worked with and around the other  ronin.  They go to the Teradaya Inn which is the heart of the talk of rebellion.  Narakara tells the inn keeper to get Arima of the Satsuma Clan to come out to speak to him about a matter of life and death.  The inn keeper rushes upstairs. 

Arima and three other ronin come downstairs.  Kihachiro asks Arima not to go ahead with the plan to revolt.  Very quickly one of Arima's men is killed.  Then Arima's man Aizu offers his life up to the assassins.  He is killed too.  Arima goes to the attack.  The fourth Arima man runs upstairs and the other ronin with Narakara chase after him.  So there is fighting now on the ground floor and the second floor.  Arima has his opponent pinned against some boxes.  He tells one of his ronin just to kill the opponent by running the sword through his body and into the opponent's body.  It is done and both men die. 

Sakamoto comes to the inn.  It is all busted up.  A woman working there tells him that the inn is closed today.  He goes upstairs and sees blood splattered screens and windows. He knows something terrible happened at the inn. 

Back to the present.  The student tells Yakamoto that Kiyokawa also wants to be the central figure, but the man lacks true virtue.  He says it's possible that the Teradaya incident could have changed him.  Sakamoto thinks this judgment of Kiyokawa is too harsh.  Yakamoto says that ten months after Kiyokawa beheaded Kakichi and left Edo, he saw Kiyokawa again.  In fact, the fellow came to his home to see him. Kiyokawa asks if he can stay over night with his family.  Yakamoto asks him if anything bad happened in Kyoto?  Kiyokawa doesn't answer.  Yakamoto informs Kiyokawa that Oren has died soon after Kiyokawa left Edo. 

Kiyokawa borrows pen and paper and writes about Oren:  "I'm deeply sorry to have let her die like that."  He also writes a request:  "Please regard her as my real wedded wife and pray for the repose of her soul  as one of your own children." 

Sasaki practices his swordsmanship. 

Free Samurai Army Member = 234.  Matsudaira says that they will depart tomorrow morning at eight from Denzuin Temple.  The Premier is worried that those 234 ronin may go beserk.   

Aizawa and the others come to kill Kiyokawa.  Shingo asks Aizawa to let him talk to Kiyokawa first.  Aizawa says:  "Too late."  He tries to speak to Kiyokawa anyway.  The five assassins confront Kiyokawa.  A ronin helps Kiyokawa.  Shingo starts talking to Kiyokawa, but Kiyokawa kills him with his sword.  He then kills one of the assassins.  He kills a second man.  And a third man.  Everyone else runs away. 

The Free Samurai Army is on the move.  They move down the narrow road.  Lord Toyama's party is coming toward them in the opposite direction.  Kiyokawa tells everyone to keep moving or he will kill them.  Lord Toyama's party makes way for the Free Samurai Army. 

Sasaki says there were no real problems on the march.  But he begs Matsudaira to give him the command to kill Kiyokawa.  Matsudaira won't give that command because Sasaki said Kiyokawa had done nothing suspicious. 

Kyoto.  The ronin in Kyoto are now told to throw away their old, raggedy clothes.  They all will be joining the Military Commissioner's force as honorable Shogunate warriors.  It will be their task to fight the Emperor worshippers. 

Now Kiyokawa confers with some of the Emperor worshippers.  He asks them if they are willing to die for him?  They say they have been ready to die for the Emperor. He tells Ishizaka to close the door.  He plans an attack on the Free Samurai Army before the ronin become an official Shogunate force. The samurai in the room will go to the Detached Palace.  From there they will get an order from the Emperor.  Councilor Hashimoto is the one who will give them the order. They have to get up at 6 a.m. and have the Emperor's order by 6:30 a.m.  Kiyokawa himself will be holding 200 ronin in a separate room.   

Kiyokawa gets the 200 or so ronin in a room.  His superiors are peeved at him and tell everyone to go back to their rooms, but Kiyokawa grabs at his samurai sword to let everyone know the he will kill them if they do not sit down and stay quiet.  Now he drops the bomb:  "We are going to denounce the Shogun, and embrace the Throne!"  When some men protest that they didn't agree to this, Kiyokawa says he will kill any enemy of the Emperor.  They now wait to get the official order from the Emperor.  Serizawa gets very impatient and he wants to have permission to kill Kiyokawa.  His superiors tell him to wait until 6:30 for the employment report.  Sasaki says when they get the employment letter:  "Then I''ll tear apart your scheme myself." 

Kiyokawa's loyal samurai cannot get into the Detached Palace.  The doors are locked.  They bang on the doors and yell to let them in.  When they do get in, Councilor Hashimoto tells them:  "Any petition for the ronin troop must follow procedure."  He tells them to go away!  Now all five samurai prepare to commit ritual suicide. 

The samurai run to Kiyokawa shouting that they have the Emperor's order!  Sasaki and his men come into the room, but Kiyokawa tells them to bow down like all the others because he is going to read the Emperor's orders.  Sasaki just wants to fight Kiyokawa, but the fellows with him force him down into a bowing position. 

Kiyokawa is now considered, among the Emperor worshippers, the man of the hour.  They all congratulate him.  Geishas come in to provide entertainment.  Serizawa comes marching in to say goodbye to Kiyokawa.  He says he and his men resign from the ronin group and go their own way.  Kiyokama says that Serizawa and his people can do whatever they wish.  He adds:  "I don't care!"  Serizawa leaves the room.  Kiyokama's loyal samurai say they start for Edo tomorrow.  They suggest that on the way they should raid Yokohama and teach the foreigners there a lesson not to invade Japan. 

A samurai, Ishizka Shuzo, sends Kiyokawa a note.  The note says:  "Forgive my selfishness, I can't understand you anymore."  The celebration continues, but Kiyokawa opens a sliding door to get some air. 

Edo.  The ronin are robbing people in their beds.  The thinking among the Emperor worshippers is that the Shogunate is behind these ronin going around robbing people to discredit the ronin force.  They want to go out and find these imposters.  The next morning in the rain the imposters who have been caught are about to be executed.  Kiyokawa now decides to behead the imposters himself.   

The Premier asks Matsudaira if Kiyokawa has been assassinated yet?  No, but ex-professor Sasaki has volunteered to do it.  Matsudaira goes on to say that the assassination plan has already begun.

Sasaki is on his way to find and kill Kiyokawa.  Kiyokawa is now about to be entertained by Geishas.  A woman is assigned to him.  She says her name is Okei.  Kiyokawa starts to have sex with her.  Later Sasaki and Kiyokawa cross paths and Sasaki asks if he is Kiyokawa?

At night Sasaki stops Kiyokawa again.  While the master swordsman is trying to untie his hat string from around his neck, Sasaki strikes a blow and Kiyokawa's blood spurts out onto Sasaki's face.  At about the same time, two of the three assassins in back of Kiyokawa strike a blow.  The great expert falls in a heap.  Now the assassins run away. 

April 13, 34d year of Bunkyu.  Kiyokawa Hachiro, 34 years of age, lays dead. 

 

The film is good, but it did drag at times.  Another problem is that there are no heroes in the film  Kiyokawa is tricking the forces behind the Shogun and the force of modernization.  (Adapting to the Western world by becoming more modernized.)  But he really is going to turn the tables on the Shogunate and support the Emperor who wants to stop all the modernizing trends brought about by the opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry.  I felt I couldn't root for Kiyokawa because he is anti-modernization and, thereby, against the inevitable forces of change.  So the supposed hero is not a hero.  There's Sasaki who has the assignment of assassinating Kiyokawa, but assassination is not a noble cause.  So there is no one to root for and that makes the film seem to drag more.  But the overall theme is a good one:  the portrayal of the bitter conflict between the forces who do not want to modernize and the forces that do want to modernize in Japan.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
 


Historical Background:

1830 -- Kiyokawa Hachir was born in Kiyokawa village in Shonai han as a son of a Gshi (country samurai).

He was not interested in his family's Sake brewing business.

He travels to Edo (later Tokyo) where he studied under Tojo Ichido and Azumi Ryosai.

He received a Menkyo (rank that gives a license to teach or serve as an assistant teacher) of Hokushin Itto Ryu (one of most popular dojo, formal gathering place for martial arts students) in Edo during the late Tokugawa shogunate at Genbukan (a school of Japanese martial arts).

1855 -- he opened the Kiyokawa school (the only school that taught both study and Kenjutsu in Edo). He was a Confucian scholar, and an ardent opponent of the Tokugawa bakufu (shogunate). He used the school as a platform for his views.

Kiyokawa was forced to leave Edo or be arrested for having killed a man over a perceived slight.

1855 (March to September) -- he traveled to many places in Honshu (the largest island in Japan). He wrote a book "Saiyu so".

1858 -- Townsend Harris negotiated the "Treaty of Amity and Commerce" that opened Japan to foreign trade.

1860 -- the Incident at Sakuradamon took place at the Gate of Edo Castle where Ii Naosuke was assassinated. Ii Naosuke signed the Harris Treaty with the United States, granting access to ports for trade to Americans. This made the non-modernists very unhappy with him.

After the Incident at Sakuradom -- the Kiyokawa school became a meeting place for Sonjo Roshi, rnin who followed the ideology of Sonn Ji (a political philosophy and movement intent on overthrowing the Tokugawa shogunate). They formed the "Torao party".

1861 -- Henry Heusken, Harris' Dutch translator, was killed by swordsmen of the "Torao party".

1862 -- Kiyokawa submitted the "Three emergency measures" to Matsudaira Shungaku, who worked for the Office of Guardian of the City of Kyoto. Matsudaira took this plan and created the Roshigumi (234 ronin, masterless samurai, who became the protectors of the Tokugawa shogun).

1864 (February) -- at Mibu Kyoto, Kiyokawa suddenly changed the purpose of the Roshigumi. He made all but 19 people return to Edo.

1864 (April) -- in Azabu Kiyokawa was assassinated by Bakufu assassins( including Sasaki Tadasabur).

The Rshigumi was renamed Sinchogumi. In Edo they worked under Shonai han as a special police force.

 

Sources:

Wikipedia

and  http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Sonjo_Roshi.

 

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