Genre: Drama / Action
Director: Eiichi Kudo
Starring: Toru Abe, Mikijiro Hira, Yoshio Inaba, Chiezo Kataoka
Duration: 118 min.
A group of revolutionaries hatch a plot for an assassination in an attempt to keep a corrupt, power-hungry minister from exerting control over the Shogunate.
The Great Duel aka The Great Battle is a film directed by Eiichi Kudo and is the second chapter of his Samurai Revolution trilogy after 13 Assassins (1963) and preceding 11 Samurai (1966). This lesser known trilogy is a series of films unconnected story-wise but dealing with the similar theme of an assassination of a high ranking official for the greater good, for justice, or for plain old revenge.
This has a well developed story, and the group of rebels are introduced and fleshed out quite effectively. Visually there are some very impressive set pieces, one disturbing scene takes place in a Buddhist monastery at night, lit with hundreds of candles and dozens of chanting monks; and the location of the final battle, a populated town surrounded by rice paddies serves as the perfect setting for the showdown. Also an unique stylistic choice is the very minimal use of music, that works to heighten the realistic mood of the film.
The battle itself is chaotic and the scene is shot mostly with a hand-held camera closely following the action, which gives it a documentary style feel, shakily chasing the battle through the rice paddies and into the town where the fighting continues in the streets and buildings. The scene is far from perfect though, it lacks proper choreography as most of the fighters appear like untrained peasants running wildly and haphazardly flailing their steel at one another, and the illusion of realism is shattered by ridiculously over exaggerated deaths.
All in all, this mostly overlooked film is worth watching especially if you are a chambara fan. It does have some unique aspects and a good story, just don't expect a masterpiece.