An elderly man takes his grandson to the doctor (1899). The practice has actually already closed because the doctor will move to Manchuria. Inmidst of the moving goods is a photo of a former member of the Shinsengumi, who the elderly man recognizes. He himself, Saitō Hajime (played by Kōichi Satō), also served in this militia and was initially an enemy of the man in the photo, a certain Yoshimura Kanichiro (played by Kiichi Nakai).
The film tells the story of these two Shinsengumi samurai. Saitō Hajime is a heartless murderer. Yoshimura Kanichiro seems like a stingy swordsman. He comes from the Nambu Morioka region in northern Japan and is overly friendly to everyone. He is constantly after the money to support his impoverished family in the distant home.
The plot is told in a series of nested flashbacks in which Saitō and the doctor remember. The main theme is loyalty to the clan, the feudal lord and the family.
It is a sword film with bloodthirsty scenes but also with depth in the interpersonal relationships.
The film is based on historical events and is worth watching. Because of the complex historical background and the numerous flashbacks, it is not easy for Westerners to follow the course of the plot.
At the Japanese Academy Awards 2004 it was the best film, received the award for the best leading role (Kiichi Nakai) and the award for the best supporting role (Kōichi Satō).
The forced but continuous opening of Japan from 1860, which began with the arrival of Matthew Perry, caused much controversy among the population. As a result, various military movements emerged that caused great unrest in the country. Some fought for the opening of Japan and the associated maintenance of power of the Tokugawa shogunate, which had ensured peace in the country and cultural development for 250 years. Others demanded that power be returned to the Tennō, the Japanese emperor, and thus voted against Western foreign countries.
Since the Shogun was to travel to Kyoto for the first time in 230 years on February 13, 1863, the Shogunate recruited over 200 swordsmen under the motto "loyalty and patriotism". They were supposed to fight the riots and mostly keep the samurai who opposed the shogun at bay.
More information about Shinsengumi on Wikipedia.