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Film Review: Mukoku

A departure from director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s graphic, often ultra-violent style!

Mukoku-p1Kengo Yatabe (Gō Ayano) is a fifth dan Kendoka who used to be a Kendo instructor at the local high school. His father Shōzō (Kaoru Kabayashi), who he detests and loves in equal measure, was also his Kendo teacher and had a bad reputation for being a brutal practitioner of the technique associated with ‘satsujin ken’, a murderous sword, as opposed to ‘katsujin ken’, a life giving sword. His father is in hospital in a vegetative state after a dreadful incident involving both father and son and his mother has died, something he is struggling to come to terms with. He has given up his instructor’s job and currently works as a security guard at a local railway station and is living his life in an alcohol soaked haze. In a Kendo match at the high school where he used to teach he comes up against Tōru Haneda (Nijirō Murakami), a student who is also an aspiring rapper who has taken up Kendo after being bullied. Astonishingly Tōru manages to score against him.

mukoku kengo

In what was a brutal one-sided and coercively controlling relationship Shōzō’s cruelty has bound his abused son Kengo to him. Kengo sees in Tōru’s character the same nature as his father, a reflection of his father’s dark shade. This, along with Tōru’s miraculous point scoring in their Kendo match, provides the necessary provocation to incite Kengo to violently explosive excess. As the abused becomes the abuser he ferociously attempts to best Tōru as their stormy relationship comes to a head at the peak of a night time typhoon.


Similar in treatment to the post WWII ‘supokon’, sporting spirit, anime genre ‘Mukoku’ is an extremely dynamic film which in parts purposely reduces the refined and philosophical aspects of the sport of Kendo, the modern practice of which is generally perceived as a way to self-betterment, to the level of a street fight to reflect Kengo’s personally, and ironically, currently contemptuous view of the sport as well as his need to somehow, indirectly, avenge himself on his father by beating Tōru.

The explosively violent confrontation between Kengo and Tōru, man and youth, is a dark reflection of the struggles they are experiencing with their inner selves. The attempts at reconciliation between Kengo and Tōru, and between themselves and their own tortured natures, are guided by the man who manages the high school Kendo team, the characterful, wily and grizzled Buddhist monk Seppo Mitsumura (Akira Emoto).

The presence of water is a potent symbol for Tōru in light of his own personal experience and both are haunted by traumatic events whilst the ominous and ghostly old lady, seemingly borrowed from Macbeth, who appears doom-like in a graveyard like an extra from the chorus of a Greek tragedy with her lessons on morality, is a bystander to a potential further tragedy should Tōru and Kengo’s unbridled confrontations continue unchecked.

The producer Hideki Hoshino clarified at the Q&A that the word using these kanji 武曲the term ‘Mukoku’ means in English ‘Samurai’ and ‘Music’, but is also the name of a star, Mizar (bound to and outshining another faint star called Alcor, an interpretation that has potential as a symbolic duality, a relationship that is relevant to the film’s plot).


The extent to which the film attempts, through the medium of Kendo, to deal with struggles with adolescence, what it means to become a man, and on the inner struggle makes for an interesting modern interpretation of the traditional ‘jidaigeki’ movie, something which Hideki san confirmed was intentional. The focus on Kengo and Tōru’s confrontations leads to an extended and intensely emotional denouement for Kengo. Be warned, for anyone who has experienced parental physical abuse as a child this section of the film is extremely emotionally harrowing.

Though through their practice they do become better people and ultimately, though the film is a modern take on the traditional ‘jidaigeki’, sword fighting, genre it comes across as a much more successful attempt at a symbolic philosophical examination of the challenges involved overcoming the struggles of the heart than the attempts of the traditional ‘jidaigeki’ movies to do the same.

If this film wins the Best Film category at the Raindance Film Festival 2017 it will be well deserved. Wow! …and wow again!


Running time 125 minutes

Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri

Screenplay by Ryō Takada

Based on the novel by Shū Fujisawa

Distributed by Kino Films and Kinoshita Group Holdings

Released in Japan on the 3rd June 2017

Nominated in the Best Film category at the Raindance Film Festival

Raindance Film Festival logo

Useful websites:



Mukoko trailer (Japanese)


Mukoku (AsianWiki)


Mukoku (Japanese)


Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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