VENICE - Cult Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto said Friday that his new film about a pacifist samurai who refuses to kill is “a scream” at the current state of the world.
The actor-director with a huge following for his cyberpunk horror movies like “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” and “Tokyo Fist” said he was exasperated with the spread of violence as he premiered his latest film, “Killing,” at the Venice Film Festival.
Tsukamoto plays a samurai master who tries to recruit a young wandering ronin fighter in mid-19th century Japan as centuries of relative peace there are threatened by the arrival of the U.S. Navy under Commodore Perry.
But despite his master’s insistence, the young samurai refuses to kill.
Tsukamoto, 58, said the stylish movie was a cry for peace. “As I took in the current state of the world, I had an urge to let out (the film) like a scream.
“The act of killing in the Edo Period (1603-1868) was quite normal. I found many connections with our age, in which more and more people think that violence is an answer,” he told reporters.
“I asked myself how a young person today would react if they found themselves in that period — would they be able to kill without hesitation?
“That’s why I created a samurai that doesn’t want to kill anymore,” Tsukamoto said.
The film, which was greeted with prolonged applause and cheering in Venice, also features a remarkable performance from actress Yu Aoi as a peasant girl who makes her feeling known for the hero — played by “The Last Samurai” star Sosuke Ikematsu — by giving him the odd punch.
Historian Julien Peltier said that the young man’s apparently modern, humanist dilemma was a recurring theme in Japanese culture before the samurai myth became the stuff of action films.
“While samurais are often reduced in the West to pitiless killers in Japanese literature they were more complex characters, often riven by doubt, particularly during the Edo Period,” said the French author of “samurai.”
“Killing” was screened after critics had raved about Chinese master Zhang Yimou’s latest martial arts film, “Shadow,” which the Hollywood Reporter called “stunning.”
Zhang, the maker of such classics as “Red Sorghum,” “Raise the Red Lantern” and “House of Flying Daggers,” said the historical epic was inspired by the ying and yang symbol and Chinese ink-brush painting.
Critic Boyd van Hoeij said “this unexpected combination of constantly wondrous production design and lethal Chinese umbrellas … is probably the most beautiful film Zhang has made.”
Zhang told reporters that he has just finished an as yet untitled new film, which is a story of “small characters from the lower classes,” in a similar realist style to his highly acclaimed “Coming Home,” which starred Gong Li, the superstar actress he discovered in “Red Sorghum” in 1988.