Among his 60-odd productions, Ken is Misumi's only film in contemporary setting. Although it falls outside the genre programmers he habitually worked in, it tellingly treats exactly the same theme as his period pieces: the conflict between bushido and humanism.
Based on the novella by Yukio Mishima (who allegedly was a great fan of Destiny's Son), Ken is the story of Jiro Kokubu (Ichikawa), star pupil of the university kendo club, for whom the sport is a way of life. Unwavering in his asceticism, he willingly foregoes girls, parties and rock music, devoting his entire being to the practice of kendo. The other students, in particular a fellow senior named Kagawa (Kawazu, star of Nagisa Oshima's early films), ridicule him behind his back, but are unable to better him in the dojo. On a training trip before a major tournament, where the group is subjected to Kokubu's gruelling regimen, Kagawa rebels, dragging the younger students with him on a collision course with their captain.
For Mishima, Jiro Kokubu was the embodiment of his ideals, a modern-day Japanese living by the warrior code, renouncing the temptations of hedonism and consumer society. He is the personification of the values the author detailed in his book-length essay Hagakure Nyumon, a study of the Hagakure, the book of the samurai, which the controversial writer considered his guide to life. Misumi takes a more distant look at the same story. Through the eyes of freshman student Mibu, torn between his admiration for his team captain and his wish to live it up before entering the adult world, the director weighs Kokubu's steadfast stoicism instead of idealising it. He adds more balance in the shape of a potential love interest for Kokubu, but with the obvious evil of swords and killing out of the way Misumi finds it far more difficult to come to a conclusion.
Shot in suitably high-contrast black and white, Ken is closer in style and tone to the seishun eiga (at times it evokes Kon Ichikawa's Punishment Room / Shokei no Heya, 1956) and the early works of the Japanese New Wave than to any of Misumi's own chanbara films. An overlooked gem that sheds a very different light on its director. ~review by Tom Mes @Midnight Eye
AVI | 724MB | XVID 616x248, 865 kbps, 25 fps | MPEG Audio, 80 kbps, 48 KHz
Japanese (Russian dub on separate track) w/ English subs