“Japan's long years of civil war are nearing a conclusion with Toyotomi Hideyoshi one short step away from finally uniting the land under his rule. He sends a huge army north against the Hojo clan, his last enemy. The one stronghold he cannot take is Oshi Castle, a Hojo outpost in the land of Bushu. Called “the floating castle” because of the lake that surrounds it, it is under the command of Narita Nagachika, a popular leader known to the people of his domain, unflatteringly, as “nobou-sama”, from deku no bou, or “blockhead”. Under Hideyoshi's order, General Ishida surrounds the castle with a force of 20,000 men. Nagachika, as his nickname suggests, is not much of a thinker, but he is a brave and obstinate leader. Against the overwhelming force of the Ishida army, the defenders of the valiant castle -- no more than 500 men -- unite with the common folk in stubborn resistance, refusing to retreat a single step, even when Ishida resorts to the extraordinary tactic of damming a river to flood them out. But, with victory in their grasp, outside events give the story a twist no one would have ever expected.” (from The Montreal World Film Festival program guide)
The release of the movie was delayed for a little more than a year because of the march 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Obviously, the flooding tactic used by the Ishida army would have been a painful reminder of the tsunami tragedy. The producers thoughts for a moment to make a few changes to the movie in order to release it earlier, but they felt they couldn't tamper with historical events.
The events retold in this movie are indeed largely accurate. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi undertook a last campaign in his effort to unify Japan. It was waged against the Late Hōjō clan in the Kanto region, which was one of the last resistance to his authority. According to Mary Elizabeth Berry, Hōjō Ujimasa had adopted a passive resistance strategy against Hideyoshi's forces and withdrew most of his forces to Odawara Castle, which was defended by his son Hōjō Ujinao. After a siege of several months, the Hōjō surrendered. Hideyoshi gave the eight Kanto provinces to Tokugawa Ieyasu in exchange for his submission, thus unifying Japan under his rule and ending an era. During this campaign, Hideyoshi's army had to laid siege to many castles of Kanto, including the Hachigata castle and the Oshi Castle. It is the siege of Oshi that is depicted in the movie. Despite his order to do otherwise, the lord of Oshi, Nagachika Narita, refused to surrender to Ishida Mitsunari (even after he dammed the river in an attempt to flood the castle) and hold the castle until the fall of Odawara was announced.
I really enjoyed this nice recreation of the era (particularly the sets and costumes). Of course, it might not be the best CGI I've seen but it's good enough to well support the story. Usually, samurai movies offer drama with lots of angst, violence and sadness. It is quite rare to see a samurai comedy. Of course, contrary to western cinema, japanese movies are more complex and nuanced. So, in this movie, there is still lots of people dying (but not in a senseless manner), you still have fighting scenes, some suspense, but everything is done with a much lighter tone. All in all it is a good entertainment.
This is definitely one of my favourite at the 2012 Montreal Film Festival.
You can also read a variety of reviews (SBS Film, Screen Daily, Shomingekiblog and Variety) or view the trailer on Youtube:
You can also find on Youtube a 13-minute feature with behind-the-scene footage (in Japanese).
The Floating Castle (のぼうの城 / Nobou no Shiro): Japan, 2012, 144 min.; Dir.: Shinji Higuchi & Isshin Inudo; Scr.: Ryo Wada (based on his own novel); Phot.: Shoji Ebara, Motonobu Kiyoku; Ed.: Soichi Ueno; Mus.: Koji Ueno; Prod. Design: Norihiro Isoda; Art dir.: Noriyuki Kondo; Cost. Des.: Akihiko Inamura, Kazuta Matsunaga, Mitsuru Otsuka; Prod.: Osamu Kubota, Shinji Ogawa; Prod. Co.: Asmik Ace Ent., IMJ Ent.; Distr.: Toho, Asmik Ace Ent.; Cast: Mana Ashida (Chidori), Nana Eikura (Kaihime), Takehiro Hira (Masaie Natsuka), Sei Hiraizumi (Yasusue Narita), Masachika Ichimura (Hideyoshi Toyotomi), Yusuke Kamiji (Mitsunari Ishida), Gin Maeda (Tahee), Takeo Nakahara (Hojo Ujimasa), Akiyoshi Nakao (Kazou), Hiroki Narimiya (Sakamaki), Isao Natsuyagi (monk), Masahiko Nishimura (Ujinaga Narita), Mansai Nomura (Nagachika Narita), Machiko Ono (Chiyo), Kôichi Satô (Tanba), Honami Suzuki (Tama), Takayuki Yamada (Yoshitsugu Otani), Tomomitsu Yamaguchi (Izumi). Official selection at the 2012 Tokyo International Film Festival and at the 2013 Udine Far East Film Festival. Winner of an Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction at the 2013 Japan Academy Prize. Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival August 30th, 2012 (Cinema Quartier Latin 15).
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