Coming back to Kagetora, he is the hero in the film for several reasons. He has an understated dignity about him that comes through in his behavior, thoughts and words. He is quite contemplative for a feudal warlord – an exception to the rule. There are many shots in the film which show him gazing at landscapes in a state of meditation. Perhaps, this confusion is a reflection of broader social changes sweeping Japan of the 16th century. It was a period when feudalism’s divisive politics is being challenged by the unifying spirit of Japanese nationalism. Kagetora can be seen as a champion of this transformation. In him we have a heroic figure who practices the Buddhist principle of compassion toward fellow human beings. In this regard, showcasing of Buddhist philosophy is a recurrent theme in the film, although it is not emphasized cinematically. Rather the Buddhist theme is like a silent and subtle undercurrent that yet informs the narrative. The film is worth watching for value-additions such as these.
Though the film is rich in historical and cultural detail, it is poorly made. For example, the plot is quite weak; the drama is contrived and drawn out. The only well made sequences are those of the fights, which are, again, a little too long at places. For the student of history and political science this need not be a deterrent, as what is important is the substance and not the style of the film. The film has plenty of allusions to Japanese history, culture and philosophy. The illustration of these themes through the format of cinema makes for an interesting experience. Hence, despite obvious drawbacks in terms of the product being a commercial cinema, it is worth watching merely as an educational material.
As a concluding thought, I would like to add that, of all the information gathered in the film, it is its portrayal of Buddhist thought that I find most impressive. The way in which the message of peace (in the form of Buddhism) is contrasted against the theatre of warfare is interesting and thought-provoking. The film is relevant to contemporary audiences too because war is not a feature confined to medieval Japan but is a recurrent event even today. It is a malaise afflicting all subsequent generations all across the world. In this backdrop, it is a meaningful exercise for the audience to think about the film’s underplayed message of peace as against its more dramatic enactment of war and bloodshed. Today, with more than ten powerful nations equipped with nuclear warhead capability, we need a culture of peace more than ever. This is not only urgent in the realm of geopolitics, but also in interpersonal and social relations.
Haruki Kadokawa, Heaven and Earth (Ten To Chi To), released in 1990 in Japan, produced by Yukata Okada.