Gassoh is the story of three childhood friends who represent different political and social ideas. The year is 1868. The Tokugawa shogunate is at his end. Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last shogun, has just been exiled to Mito. This historical event is said to have happened without bloodshed. The political leaders at that time agreed in peaceful negotiations. But as the film's narrator explains, humans are not so innocent, so discontent soon led to rebellions and wars across Japan.
The 3 friends are:
- Kiwamu Akitsu, the dashing and loyal young man who wants to hold onto the glory of the shogunate. He is the ideal samurai - loyal, strong and masculine, chivalrous. Like many of his colleagues at the end of the shogunate, he is blinded by this loyalty and ready to die for an ideal that even his leaders have given already up. It is only logical that he should join the Shogitai.
- Masanosuke Yoshimori, the adoptive son of the Kasai family. Due to the death of his adoptive father, he is forced to leave the family. They kindly send him with unsuitable decorative swords to avenge the father. Maybe hoping that he will be killed. He is looking for a new home in the Shogitai.
- Teijiro Fukuhara is angry with Kiwamu for breaking up the engagement with his younger sister Soyo. He is the scholar among the three and the voice of reason. He pursues Kiwamu and ends up at the Shogitai.
Masanosuke and Teijiro are not easy to distinguish in the film for non-Japanese eyes. They wear the same inconspicuous uniforms and hardly differ in their gestures and facial expressions.
A convincing character of the film is Tokunoshin Mori, a group leader of the Shogitai. He represents the noble values of the samurai and is played very convincingly by Joe Ogaishi.
Gassoh mixes stories from Japanese politics and samurai adventure with a few supernatural stories. The film also shows the real life of the young samurai with the addiction to alcohol, pleasure and prostitutes, of course very traditionally preferably after work.
We see how young people are seduced by ideologies and how little value human life has for the pullers behind the scenes.
The political situation in Japan at this time of change was extremely confusing. So it is understandable that little of the otherwise highly praised samurai ideals can be seen.