Rikyu (1989)




Director:     Hiroshi Teshigahara.

Starring:     Rentaro Mikuni (Rikyu), Yoshiko Mita (Riki, his wife), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Hideyoshi Toyotomi), Ky˘ko Kishida (His wife), Tanie Kitabayashi (His mother), Sayaka Yamaguchi (Chieha, his mistress), Ryo Tamura (Lord Hidenaga, his brother), Koshiro Matsumoto (Lord Oda), Kichiemon Nakamura (Lord Ieyasu), Yasosuke Bando (Mitsanari), Akira Kubo (Geni), Keishi Arashi (Orike, Rikyu's friend), Hisashi Igawa (Soji), Ichir˘ Zaitsu (Abbott Kokei), Hideo Kanze (Rikyu's brother in law).

Buddhist priest and improver of the tea ceremony runs afoul of Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi


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

This is the story of the duel between art and politics, of the beliefs of one man against the ambitions of another.  In 16th century Japan under a new ruling class, the arts were flourishing and at their center was the tea ceremony. 

Lord Oda comes to visit Rikyu in his tearoom.  The Lord fixes a bowl of tea for Rikyu and then Rikyu fixes a cup of tea and gives it to Oda.  Oda says:  "Do you think I'm too obvious?  Or too active?" 

Lord Oda speaks to a Portuguese naval captain who made a perilous journey to Japan.  He has a world globe with him and wonders if others believe that the earth is round.  Oda tells Hideyoshi Toyotomi to come  with them too. 

A Portuguese man named Stefano asks a man in the street where is Rikyu's place. He is Lord Oda's page.  Recently Lord Oda's general Akechi rebelled and defeated him.  Oda went to his tearoom and committed seppuku (i.e., ritual suicide).  To avenge his master, Hideyoshi attacked the rebellious Akechi and, in a great battle, caused his death.  Hideyoshi came back from Kyoto and in three days wiped out Akechi. 

Supreme Commander Lord Hideyoshi speaks to an assembled group of priests.  He says that he can tell that the Christians have pure hearts.  He says he gives his old responsibilities to his brother Hidenaga so that he can concentrate on conquering Korea and China.  But first he will send envoys there to demand their subservience.  He also mentions that he wants close relations with the Portuguese:  "Let's be friends." 

Hideyoshi wants Rikyu to make him a gold tearoom.  Later Hideyoshi is very happy and tells Rikyu:  "I did it!  I made tea for the emperor!"  Soji, Rikyu's apprentice makes a black tea bowl for Hideyoshi.  But Hideyoshi is mad because he does not like black bowls.  He prefers red ones.  Hideyoshi tells Rikyu that he is banishing Soji for the second time.  Rikyu does seem happy about it so Hideyoshi asks him: "Do you object?"  Rikyu talks with Soji.  They both agree that black is venerable. But the Lord loves gold.  Soji criticizes Rikyu saying:  "You're only being compliant." 

The Lord's wife, Mitsunari, wants Rikyu's wife to be her tea ceremony instructor.  Soji flees to Odawara in the land of Lord Hojo.  Hideyoshi and his brother visit their mother.  She tells Hideyoshi that she really wants to see her daughters, who he married off to war lords.  She cries.  Hideyoshi tells his mother to tell everyone that she has served the emperor and is upset with her when she does not understand why she should do so.  Hideyoshi visits with his wife and says:  "I'm so very tired."  Mitsunari defends his mother by saying that she was never a greedy person.  Hideyoshi doesn't like this since it implies that he is greedy.  He tells her:  "You never stop talking back!" 

Hideyoshi's favorite concubine is expecting a son and heir.  Rikyu's wife, Riki, teaches Mitsunari the tea ceremony.  A man named Geni doesn't like the idea of Riki as a teacher:  ". . .. a woman instructor is just too much!"  After all, the tea ceremony, he says, was developed for the samurai. 

Rikyu with Abbott Kokei visit with the painter Tohaku.  The painter has just finished painting some wall screens for Rikyu.  Rikyu is very happy with the screens.  The main gate is now finished and since the donor was Rikyu and every such gate has it's donor's image at the gate, they want to make a statue of Rikyu.  Tohaku will do the job. 

Hideyoshi and his musicians sing a song about coming back from the Akechi victory to hurry to attack the Hojos.  At the ceremony, Hideyoshi's brother coughs up blood.  Rikyu makes some tea for him which makes him feel a lot better.  He tells Rikyu:  "My brother has become so selfish, so arrogant."  Rikyu defends him by saying that Hideyoshi is lonely at the top.  Hideyoship will launch an assault  on Hojo and then on China.  Hidenaga asks Rikyu to make him a colorful tea bowl. 

Hideyoshi's warriors are on their way to Odawara and are boxing in the Hojo forces.  At home Rikyu hears some noises outside.  He opens the door and finds it's Soji.   Soji tells Rikyu that he realizes now that he is not a master of the tea ceremony.  Later he makes Rikyu a bowl of tea.  Soji now says that he can return to Odawara with no regrets.  But Rikyu reminds him that the way back to Odawara is now a battlefield.  Rikyu tells him that he will set up a meeting for Soji with Hideyoshi.   Hideyoshi visits with Soji.  He tells the bowl maker that he will pardon him and also employ him.  But, Soji says, he promised Lord Hojo that he would return.  Hideyoshi says:  "I hear you've been teaching him the tea ceremony."  The Lord is not happy.  He tells Soji that this is an order; he must work for Hideyoshi.  Soji insists:  "I cannot break a promise."  So Hideyoshi commands his troops to behead Soji. 

Rikyu goes to see the corpse of Soji and says: "Soji, forgive me!"  Rikyu goes to see his statue by the gate.  Some of Rikyu's apprentices says that Master Rikyu is now completely in the power of the Lord.  Rikyu's brother-in-law, the play producer Yahei, comes to talk with him.  He asks:  "What about a Noh play on the China attack?"  Rikyu says that the victory over Akechi will prove much easier than a victory over China.  While they are discussing this matter, Rikyu's wife is teaching the tea ceremony.  She gives a bowl of tea to Hideyoshi's mother.  Later Riki returns to her husband.  She has heard that her brother stopped in for a visit.  The talk among the ladies of the court is that the Catholic priests will be sent home.  Now it will be hard for Stefano to stay.  Later Rikyu gives Stefano a farewell gift. 

Yahei visits with Lord Mitsunari, who asks him about what Rikyu said about the attack on China.  Yahei objects that they were only chatting, but the Lord insists that Yahei tell him the whole story.  Later Rikyu is brought before the court.  The sentiment at court is:  "Let no one criticize the proposed attack on China."  Lord Ieyasu is reluctant to join their attack on China.  Hidenaga again starts coughing up blood.  The group hatches a plan to poison Ieyasu when he pays a visit to their domain.  And Rikyu is given the task of poisoning Ieyasu during the tea ceremony. 

Rikyu is notified that this morning, magistrate Genji and his men arrived to inspect his statue at the main gate. 

Ieyasu and Rikyu enjoy the tea ceremony together.  Rikyu does not poison the Lord. and Ieyasu returns to his fief.  When Hideyoshi learns of this he is very disappointed.  Rikyu is said to now have a fever and stays in bed.  "How convenient" is Hideyoshi's comment. 

Hideyoshi cries for his now deceased brother.  He takes some plum blossoms to Rikyu in the tea room.  He asks Rikyu to arrange the flowers for him and Rikyu does so to Hideyoshi's satisfaction.  Hideyoshi tells Rikyu that he is not happy about his statue being place over the main gate:  "It's not the statue; it's putting it over the gate."  Hideyoshi then says that he was actually relieved when Ieyasu went back to Edo (today's Tokyo).  But he wants to know what Rikyu said about the attack on China.  He becomes very angry and then says that the China attack will actually be much easier than the attack on Akechi.  He finally says:  "Your face sickens me!".  He leaves. 

On the charge of insolence Rikyu will leave Kyoto to go to the port of Sakai.  He must prepare to leave at once.  His wife feared that the punishment would be even worse.  But Rikyu says that he thinks there is worse to come.  A public notice of Rikyu's insolence is posted by the main gate and the now split statue of Rikyu.

Hideyoshi's wife tells him that Riki sent her a letter.  She says she feels sorry for Rikyu's wife.  She writes a letter back to Riki saying that if Rikyu apologizes she and her mother-in-law can intercede with Hideyoshi on Rikyu's behalf.   Riki gives the letter to her husband, but he only tells her to write back thanking the lady for her concern.  Not giving up, Riki asks her husband to apologize. Rikyu protests:  "Why is everyone trying to make me crawl?"  He maintains that he has done nothing that requires an apology. 

Riki writes a letter back to Mitsunari.  Hideyoshi grabs it from his wife, asking:  "Did he apologize?"  No he did not.  So Hideyoshi orders that Rikyu commit ritual suicide. 

Rikyu comes home followed by a group Hideyoshi's soldiers.  A soldier pushes him forward with a pole.  Rikyu is taken by boat to a secluded place.  He is surrounded by Hideyoshi's cavalry who close in around him.  He is placed in a palanquin and taken into a bamboo woods.

On February 28, 1591 Rikyu commits ritual suicide.  But his way of the tea ceremony influenced the nation forever.  He died six years later during the invasion of Korea. 


Good movie, but not as good as "Beckett" or "A Man for All Seasons".  There is not much philosophical discussion in this movie as in the other two movies.  The movie, however, does show just how terrible was the system of feudalism in Japan.  (There are, however, a lot of Japanese movies making this point as well.)  And, of course, the movie shows the constant fighting between the various warlords.  My wife commented that the start of the film was pretty slow.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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