A robin hood tale of betrayal, love, and revenge.
Tajomaru: Avenging Blade
Naomitsu Nobotsuna is the second son of the Nobotsuna family. As such, he will never inherit the family title of Deputy to the Shogun – that honor belongs to his older brother Hatakeyama. Despite this Naomitsu is a cheerful boy who loves his childhood friend princess Ako.
In his youth Naomitsu rescues another young boy who is a thief from punishment by his estate, naming him Sakuramaru and a retainer to the family, with both Hatakeyama and Naomitsu raising Sakuramaru as if he were their flesh and blood brother. The servant of the house that caught the young thief warns Naomitsu. Telling him that “Once a thief, always a thief. Today a potato, tomorrow a horse…then a house…” These warnings become strangely prophetic.
However the happiness of youth does not last forever…even as a young boy Sakuramaru becomes singled out by the blind Shogun who, unbeknownst to Hatakeyama or Naomitsu, has a taste for young boys and this abuse carries into his adult life.
Now we skip ahead a number of years and the boys are now men. Ako and Naomitsu are both in love with plans to eventually marry. Troubling news is brought to the Nobotsuna household when the Shogun visits however, informing the brothers that The Great Councilor and his wife (who were Ako’s parents) have passed from plague and thus they need one of the two brothers to take on the mantle of Deputy to succeed the House – this involves marrying Ako. Hatakeyama sees this as a threat to his inheritance with the Shogun presenting the possibility of Naomitsu becoming Deputy. If the brothers do not accept this arrangement then the position of Deputy will be passed on to someone else in their family tree. Naomitsu is ready and willing to let Hatakeyama have the Title and Wealth of the position of Deputy but openly opposes his brother marrying Ako.
Naomitsu meets with Ako to comfort her regarding the situation as well as the death of her parents and tries to figure out what to do. In a bold move Sakuramaru informs Hatakeyama that Naomitsu intends to take the gold of Ako’s family for himself. Unwilling to accept the possibility of losing his inheritance Hatakeyama, believing his brother has betrayed him, corners Ako and rapes her to ‘claim her’ for himself, making threats to kill both Ako and Naomitsu if they leave.
Sakuramaru then meets with Naomitsu to inform him that Hatakeyama has met with and ‘taken’ lady Ako…thus causing a civil war in the house of Nobotsuna as Naomitsu flees with Ako, Sakuramaru, and a small band of loyal followers. Naomitsu is troubled by the actions of his brother and in general feels that something is wrong though he is unaware of Sakuramaru’s treachery.
Meanwhile Sakuramaru takes the other servants of the house aside and kills them one by one, declaring his intent to remove both Hatakeyama and Naomitsu from the family and assume the role of Deputy to the Shogun himself! “They treated me like a brother, and so I share their ambition.”
With a strange bit of serendipity both Naomitsu and Sakuramaru miss finding one another though Naomitsu does find the bodies of his servants. Fearing that Sakuramaru has been killed as well he flees with Ako further into the forest.
After becoming lost in the forest the two encounter another traveler who declares himself to be the legendary bandit known as Tajomaru, wielder of the legendary blade “Namikiri – The Cutting Wave”. Handily defeating and knocking out Naomitsu, our hero wakes to the sight of Ako disheveled. Apparently Ako’s purpose in this movie is to go crazy and be raped. (Seriously this is not the last time this happens either.)
Angered at the sudden betrayal by Ako who declares she wants Naomitsu to die, Naomitsu manages to kill Tajomaru as Ako flees into the forest. Left alone and having his heart broken the dying bandit gives the young noble purpose once more – his dying wish being that Naomitsu take on both the name of Tajomaru and wield the sword The Cutting Wave. This has been the tradition of the legendary bandit king for centuries, the title being passed to whoever defeats the current bearer of the name.
Naomitsu, now going by Tajomaru, quickly finds a band of thieves that make him their boss. The group could take whatever they wanted as highwaymen without bloodshed just by using the reputation of Tajomaru.
Back in the capital Sakuramaru has killed Hatakeyama and stolen Naomitsu’s name to become the new Deputy of the Shogun.
The new bandit king hears word that Naomitsu’s name has been cleared as well as the death of his brother and opts to return home to discover what is going on. What will happen when Tajomaru discovers the treachery of his brother Sakuramaru? What is the fate of the poor princess Ako? You’ll have to watch to find out!
Special Features: Trailers and a 17 minute “Making of” featurette.
Japanese and English audio.
Tajomaru is presented as a “movie that will light the fire in the Japanese soul!” by presenting a new kind of super macho man. The image of a ‘macho’ Japanese man is very different from the action-gun-toting hero of American cinema. Rather than being an unstoppable force of carnage with lots of explosions, Tajomaru’s unwillingness to accept the betrayal of his love by Ako or to lose his morals as the bandit king show his nobility and manliness instead. This movie seemed to go on a little longer than I expected, there were a couple of moments that I expected the movie to come to a conclusion but apparently not enough people had died yet so the movie continued. Tajomaru is not a happy movie. The cynical part of me wants to say that the moral of the movie is that if you show kindness to homeless children they will take everything you love.
Overall there is a very strong robin hood feel to Tajomaru. An exiled noble takes on a different name and leads a small band of thieves against someone who has unlawfully taken a noble position. The circumstances are just a lot more personal.
The biggest complaint I have about this movie is the character of Princess Ako. She does not seem to have a purpose in the film except to be viewed as a commodity and is raped and beaten repeatedly in the movie.