In his prolific and much-lauded career, Toshiro Mifune worked with director Hiroshi Inagaki even more often than he did with his more celebrated collaborator Akira Kurosawa — the best-known product of these collaborations is the Miyamoto Musashi trilogy, with Mifune playing the title character. Working for the Toho studio, Inagaki was a very well-respected writer/director during the 1950s and 60s with a bit of a specialisation in period action films: his Musashi films and his version of The 47 Ronin remain the best-loved adaptations of their stories.
In Daredevil in the Castle, Toho’s big New Year picture for 1961, Inagaki tells the story of Mohei, a big, brawling ruffian caught up in a war between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans in the early seventeenth century. Having lost his entire family in the battle of Sekigahara, Mohei wanders about, eventually ending up looking for work in Osaka just as preparations for war are beginning. The local populace are fleeing the city, and local merchants are busy profiteering, jacking up the price of food and weaponry, much to Mohei’s disgust.
Joining the battle on the side of the Toyotomis, Mohei takes on a variety of different missions, bravely taking on everything from kidnappings to dastardly Portuguese sailors to entire besieging armies. Throughout it all he remains a larger-than-life, pragmatic character, honourable yet flexible: far removed from the more melodramatic Musashi of earlier films. Mohei’s easy-going practicality hints at what was to come in Toshiro Mifune’s next role, the wolf among sheep in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.
Like many of Inagaki’s films, Daredevil in the Castle is big; it’s got huge battle scenes with thousands of extras in period outfits, warships, bandits and artillery. It’s also got heart: Mifune is enormously likeable in the role of Mohei, as is Danko Ichikawa, who plays the legendary ninja Saizo Kirigakure and occasionally shows up to save Mohei when he gets himself into trouble.
Daredevil in the Castle is good, clean fun — it’s a big budget historical action film which Toshiro Mifune inhabits completely, with buckets of spectacle and explosions and a ninja. Fans of samurai films who’re in it for the action and heroism will love it.