Shin heike monogatari (The Taira Clan Saga) (1955)





Director:    Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring:      Narutoshi Hayashi (Taira Torodai),   Raiz Ichikawa   (Taira Kiyomori),   Tatsuya Ishiguro (Fujiwara no Tokinobu),   Michiyo Kogure (Yasuko),   Akitake Kno (Heiroku),   Yoshiko Kuga (Tokiko),   Tamao Nakamura (Shigeko),   Shunji Natsume (Emperor Toba),   Ichijir Oya (Taira no Tadamori),   Mitsusabur Ramon (Ryokan),   Kunitaro Sawamura (Joku),   Koreya Senda,    Eitar Shind (Banboku),   Ichir Sugai (Carpenter),   Eijir Yanagi (Emperor Shirakawa).

Japanese film, English subtitles, 108 minutes.

A powerful drama set in medieval Japan, as the struggle for power of a samurai family faces tests from without and within. AKA: "Shin Heike Monogatari."

Heian era (794 to 1185 A.D.)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

12th century medieval Japan.  The nobility and the priesthood had immense estates that were exempt from taxes, despite bad economic conditions.  There was chaos in the capital and throughout the country.  Famine, banditry and riots were widespread.  The Fujiwara clan that assured the security of the state was impotent to calm these troubles.  The retired emperor Shirakawa (cloistered in a monastery) re-asserted his authority.  The major tension was between the monk-emperor Shirakawa and the Imperial Court of the current Emperor Toba.  The nobility called on the professional warriors (the samurai), while the monks created their own army.  They carried before it the sacred palanquins (repositories for the souls of the venerated royal ancestors). 

1137, the capital of Kyoto.  At the marketplace a woman shouts her complaint about thieving merchants that have raised the prices again.  Some men complain that there are two courts in the capital: the ex-emperor's cloister palace and the Emperor's Court.  That's the cause of all the problems they agree.  Both nobles and monks used their power to expand their fiefdoms.  The people at the marketplace start shouting that the warriors of the Taira Clan are coming.  They are the victors over the revolt in the west.  Clan leader Taira Tadamori and his son Taira Kiyomori are on horseback near the front.  From the other direction comes the monks.  Kiyomori and the others get out of the way of the monks, but Kiyomori says:  "Dirty monks.  The monks use the sacred palanquins to cover their crimes."  A huge monk upfront makes sure that everyone bows or becomes prostrate before the holy palanquins of Mount Hiei. 

The Cloister Palace. Captain Tadamori and son Kiyomori defeated the pirates in the west.  They are heads of the Taira Clan that is a group of samurai.  The visit of the Mount Hiei monks concerning the Onjo Temple preoccupies His Majesty, the monk-emperor Shirakawa. Shirakawa wants to congratulate Tadamori on his wonderful accomplishments, but the court advisers say that would not be a good idea.  They do not want to see any rich samurai.  Shirakawa then says he wants to ennoble Tadamori.  Again, the court advisers argue that for the samurai to be any use they must remain in poverty. 

Tadamori goes home with nothing for his accomplishments.  The women are happy to see them.  Some, those who lost husbands, sons or brothers, cry.  Tadamori's sons help him remove his armor and other military equipment.  Mom is at a reception at Lord Nakamikado's house.  Tadamori tells his oldest son to go sell a horse for the money to buy saki (rice wine) and some food for all to celebrate their great victory.  Kiyomori sells the horse.  But at the celebration the samurai are not in the mood to celebrate.  Kiyomorigets frustrated and tells the men:  "Your sadness offends my father."   But the samurai cna't help themselves, they feel ignored by His Majesty. 

Kiyomori now has to help in the farming.  Mom returns home.  She says she visited her father.  Her husband scolds her for not being home when they arrived.  She becomes indignant and says that she spoke to His Majesty's sister.  Mom says she made an appeal for a just reward for her husband.  She then asks her husband if he asked Tokinobu Fujiwara to intercede on his behalf.  The man was punished for pushing for her husband's ennoblement.  As a result, His Majesty's sister cannot do anything. 

Mom was ordered to marry Tadamori by ex-emperor Sikawara.  She criticizes her husband saying "Now we will remain commoners forever."  Her husband leaves the room.  Mom says that she is of noble birth and that the commoner status has been hard on her.  She can't even afford to throw a "boat party".  She adds:  "I can't sand it anymore."  Moreover, if she didn't have children, she would have left a long time ago.  This last remark really upsets Kiyomori who can't believe his mother is so selfish. 

Kiyomori goes to visit Tokinobu Fujiwara to thank him for his father.  In the yard he sees a beautiful young woman named Tokiko working on dyeing fabrics.  She is the eldest daughter of Tokinobu, who is a poor nobleman.  Kiyomori seems very impressed by her.  He then speaks to Tokinobu.  He gives him his father's letter.  Tokinobu says that he spoke on Tadamori's behalf, but the ministers did not like this and they exiled him to the library.  He adds that he actually prefers books to a bunch of idiots.  As Kiyomori leaves, Tokiko asks him to come back to visit her father who is a bit lonely.  When Tokiko sees her brother heading to the cockfights, she asks Kiyomori to stop him.  Kiyomori does catch up with her brother, but he ends up going with the brother to the cockfights.  Kiyomori admits that he goes to the cockfights a great deal.

A merchant named Banboku is introduced to Kiyomori.  The man wants permission from Kiyomori's father to trade on the western seas.  Kiyomori goes with the merchant to his house.  Most of his goods come from China.  While talking, the merchant tells Kiyomori that his mother was the Court Lady of Gion.  Kiyomori is shocked to hear this.  He wants to know more, so the merchant tells the story.  Emperor Sikawara liked a courtesan 20 years ago who came from Gion.  Kiyomori's father and another man named Lesada would accompany Sikawara to provide some protection.  One rainy night as the three men came to see the courtesan, a man jumped out of the window and tried to run away.  Tadamori chased the man and could have killed him, but he was stopped by the others.  Sikawara ennobled the courtesan and had her married to Kiyomori's father.  Seven months later, Kiyomori was born.  The merchant says that yes, Kiyomori is the son of Emperor Sikawara. 

Kiyomori wakes to find himself with a courtesan.  He wants to leave, but she tries to stop him.  He gets away from her but knocks down some of the spears belonging to the monks.  The monks start to harass him, but he just keeps apologizing and running.  One monk says that they could have kidnapped Kiyomori and gotten some money for him.   Kiyomori goes to talk with Lesada.  He roughs up the fellow in order to have him tell the truth about his conception.  When the strange man ran from the house of the courtesan of Gion, Emperor Sikawara asked her what that was all about.  She asked for his forgiveness.  The Emperor reminded her:  "You are still a common whore."  He then demanded that Tadamori marriy the courtesan.  This crushes Kiyomori, who asks if he is the son of a debauched monk.  He even begins to cry and his mother sees him crying. 

Mom goes to her husband and says:  "Divorce me.  Let me leave."  Dad says that Kiyomori will apologize to her.  But when Kiyomori comes in to speak with her he immediately asks:  "Whose son am I?"  Mom tells her husband:  "Tell him that I am innocent."  Kiyomori asks his mother directly about his parentage.  She asks:  "How can I stay here?"  She starts to leave.  Kiyomori starts to pursue asking her to stay.  His brothers are very young and they still need her.  When she still refuses, he gets so angry that he throws her down on the floor.  She says:  "You dare to insult the Emperor's mistress?"  She leaves with the young brothers following her asking her to stay.  Dad tells Kiyomori:  "Let it be.  She always despised our clan."  Kiyomori then asks his dad, but the man only says:  "You are my son." 

The Temple of Hakusan burned to the ground and the lands were confiscated by the Provincial Government.  The Temple belonged to the Order of Mount Hiei.  The monks are not happy about this and one of them in the crowd grabs the legal documents and runs with them.  This starts a huge fight between the various parties. 

Imperial Palace.  The monks ask the Emperor to rescind the confiscation law.  They point out that if the government takes the estates of the monks, they will not be able to feed the poor.  So the government will have to assume the responsibility of feeding the poor.   The answer, however, is "no" to the monks

Captain Tadamori is given the job of dealing with the monks of the Order of Mount Hiei.  He has to take 300 samurai to calm them down.  Kiyomori refuses to go with his father.  He even speaks against monk-emperor Sikawara.  Dad says:  "If that's the way you feel, don't come with me."  Kiyomori stays home. 

Merchant Banboku comes to speak with Kiyomori.  He says that the time has come for the rise of the samurai.  He also brings news that Kiyomori's father was ennobled by the Emperor for his performance against the monks.  The merchant goes on to say that Kiyomori is a samurai with noble blood and that he will achieve a high rank.  The merchant tells him to sell his future to him.  "I'll stake everything on you."  Kiyomori agrees.  He asks the merchant for silk and flax.  He then gives these raw materials to Tokiko.  He asks her to make a kimono for him, but she is already in the process of making one for him. 

Lesada and the Taira Clan samurai arrive at the house.  They are going to drink to the health of the master.  Lesada wakes up Kiyomori to have him honor his father.  But Kiyomori says that ennoblement was "peerage by charity."  He refuses to participate.  Someone arrives with the news of a plot against Captain Tadamori.  When Kiyomori hears that his father is in danger, that the courtiers are planning to kill him this very night, he jumps to his father's defense.  The problem is that the courtiers will not accept a samurai at court. 

Kiyomori decides to foil the assassination plot.  He and a small group of his men listen to the plotting of the would-be assassins.

Lord Yorinaga of the Emperor's court talks with mom and asks her about her husband.  She says:  "He's just a vulgar samurai."  Kiyomori hears all of the conversation.  Learning who the assassination ring leaders are, Kiyomori detains them so they cannot give the signal for the assassination attempt.  But, believe it or not, Lord Yorinaga, one of the plotters, dresses down Tadamori for being responsible for his son invading the court with weapons in order to use force against members of the court.  Lord Yorinaga asks for the death penalty for Kiyomori and his men. 

The samurai of the Taira Clan are mad when they learn about the accusations against Tadamori and Kiyomori.  But Tadamori brings good new. The monk-emperor was very impressed by Kiyomori and his men's courage   Dad thanks his son and says he is proud of him.  There is, however, some bad news.  Tokinobu of the Fujiwara Clan and all his men have been banished from court for warning Tadamori and Kiyomori.  And their estate will be seized.  Kiyomori suggests to his father that they make Tokinobu part of the Taira Clan.  He then mentions that he wants to marry Tokinobu's daughter Tokiko. 

Imamiya Spring Festival in Kyoto.  The big monk decides he wants the drinking cup being used by Kiyomori's future brother-in-law.  The monks deliberately start a fight at Spring Festival.  A man in the crowd says:  "Those monks are lawless rogues picking fights." 

Tadamori, Kiyomori and Tokiko talk together.  Dad has been made Lord Justice and Kiyomori is now a captain.  Then they learn that Tokiko's brother has been wounded by the monks.  The monks provoked the fellow because they were mad because he joined the Taira Clan.  Kiyomori stands up to the monks and chases them away. 

The monks gather their men at the Hiei Temple.  The monks tell their men that Kiyomori dared to oppose their authority.  Furthermore, their estate of Hakusan has been given to the Tairas.  They then decide to march into the city. 

At the Imperial Court Minister Lord Yorinaga wants to sacrifice Tadamori and Kiyomori to soothe the monks.  They will need the approval of monk-emperor Shikakawa, but he rejects the idea.  In the presence of Tadamori and Kiyomori, Lord Yorinaga says that these Taira Clan men cannot go to war with the monks.  When Tadamori will not cooperate, Lord Yorinaga says they are banished from the court.  He then slaps Tadamori across the face and has him forced down the steps away from court.  Kiyomori comes to the rescue saying that the Taira Clan will fight the monks all by themselves.   

Tadamori in a wagon and Kiyomori on horseback head home.  When they arrive Kiyomori goes to check on his father and finds him dead.  Meanwhile, the monks continue their march toward the Taira Clan.  Mother arrives and her eldest son asks what does she want:  "She deserted our family."  But his brothers ask for leniency for their mother.  He relents.  Tikiko and her family ask her brother to surrender himself to the monks to prevent a big battle.  The brother tells them that he already suggested this to Kiyomori but he said he won't hear of it. 

Kiyomori talks to his mother.  She inquires about a fan that was found in the hands of the deceased.  He shows her the fan and she says that it is a message from the father to Kiyomori about his lineage.  On the fan is a poem partly written by Emperor Sikawara.  Kiyomori is really a son of Sikawara.  But Kiyomori responds to his mother:  "I am an illegitimate son and I must rely on myself."  He adds that he wants to kill that part of him that is the Emperor.  Mom objects to this and Kiyomori tells her:  "Get out of here!" 

Kiyomori with a few of his men go to face the monks.  When speaking to them he takes his bow and arrows and knocks off the emblem on top of two of the palanquins.  The monks see this as a bad omen and start running away. 

On another day Kiyomori and a small group of his men come upon Lord Yorinaga being entertained by mom and her troupe of dancer.  Kiyomori comments that his mother has reverted to her original job of courtesan.  Three of Lord Yorinaga's men warn them to stay away from the festivities.  Kiyomori is happy to leave them alone.  He only says out loud that the Lord and his men should enjoy himself for the end of their reign approaches and it starts the next day. 


Good movie.  It clearly shows the divisions between the nobles and monks on the one hand and the samurai on the other.  This is really showing the start of the rise to great importance of the samurai.  This is accomplished by following the story of Taiga Clan samurai Tadamori and his son Kiyomori.  The villain you love to hate is the mother and her life reveals a number of secrets that affect the lives of father and son.  The movie kept my wife and my attention throughout. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The Taira clan was a hereditary clan name. The emperors of the Heian Period beginning around 794 used the name for a group of certain ex-members of the imperial family. The clan was one of four that dominated the Heian Period: the Taira, the Fujiwara, the Tachibana and the Minamoto.

The Kammu Heishi line was founded in 889 by Taira no Takamochi (a great-grandson of the 50th Kammu tenno, reigned 781-806). It was the strongest and dominant line during the late Heian period. Taira no Kiyomori formed the first samurai dominated government in the history of Japan. A great-grandson of Heishi Takamochi, Taira no Korihira, moved to Ise Province (now part of Mie Prefecture) and established a major daimyo dynasty.


710794 -- Nara period.

781-806 -- reign of Japan's 50th emperor, Emperor Kammu.

794 to 1185 A.D. -- Heian era. Peak of the Japanese imperial court; especially noted for its poetry and literature; in addition known for the rise of the samurai class.

794 -- capital of Japan moved to Heian kyo (today's Kyoto) by Emperor Kammu.

The real power belonged to the Fujiwara nobility.

There was a lot of unrest in the land. So the nobility started sponsoring a warrior class.

806-809 -- reign of 51st emperor, Emperor Heizei.

809-823 -- reign of 52nd emperor, Emperor Saga. He was the first Japanese emperor to drink tea.

823-833 -- reign of 53rd emperor of Japan, Emperor Junna (786-840). He was a son of Emperor Kammu.

833-850 -- reign of 54th emperor of Japan, Emperor Nimmyo (810850).

850-858 -- reign of 55th emperor of Japan, Emperor Montoku (827-858).

858-876 -- reign of 56th emperor of Japan, Emperor Seiwa (850-880).

876-884 -- reign of 57th emperor of Japan, Emperor Yozei (869-949).

887-897 -- reign of 59th emperor of Japan, Emperor Uda (867- 931).

889 -- the Kammu Heishi line founded by Taira no Takamochi. It was the strongest and dominant line during the late Heian period.

939 -- Taira no Masakado threatened the authority of the central government. He led an uprising in the eastern province of Hitachi. At about the same time Fujiwara no Sumitomo rebelled in the west.

1073-1087 -- reign of the 72nd emperor of Japan, Emperor Shirakawa.

1077 -- Emperor Shirakawa built the nine-storied pagoda Hossho-ji (dedicated to the "Superiority of Buddhist Law") at Shirakawa in fulfillment of a sacred vow. .

1087-1107 -- reign of the 73rd emperor of Japan, Emperor Horikawa. He was the son of Emperor Shirakawa and his reign was overshadowed by the cloistered rule of that former emperor.

1103 -- birth of future Emperor Toba. When his mother died, his grandfather, former-Emperor Shirakawa raised him.

1107-1123 -- Reign of the cloistered 74th emperor, Emperor Toba (1103-1156). During the initial years, his grandfather, the "retired" Emperor Shirakawa, was the real power made possible by a process known as cloistered rule.

1123 -- Emperor Toba forced to abdicate by retired-Emperor Shirakawa. Toba's son Akihito, would become Emperor Sutoku.

1123-1142 -- reign of 75th emperor, Emperor Sutoku.

1129 -- death of former-Emperor Shirakawa. Toba began to rule as cloistered emperor. He held power through the reigns of three emperors, Emperor Sutoku, Emperor Konoe, and Emperor Go-Shirakawa.

1142-1155 -- reign of the 76th emperor, Emperor Konoe. He was the eighth son of Emperor Toba.

1153 -- Taira no Kiyomori assumed control of the Taira clan. He was a general of the late Heian period and he established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in the history of Japan.

1155-1158 -- the 77th emperor of Japan, Emperor Go-Shirakawa. He was the fourth son of the Emperor Toba.

1156 -- death of former emperor Toba.

1156 -- a Japanese civil war, known as the Hogen Rebellion, was fought over Japanese imperial succession and the control of the Fujiwara clan of regents. Taira no Kiyomori and Minamoto no Yoshitomo, head of the Minamoto clan, suppressed the Hogen Rebellion. It also established the dominance of the samurai clans. At this time Taira no Kiyomori of the Taira clan placed his grandson on the throne to rule Japan by regency.

1158-1165 -- the reign of 78th emperor of Japan, Emperor Nijo (11431165). He was the eldest son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the father of Emperor Rokujo.

1158 -- start of the Kamakura period when Minamoto no Yoritomo seized power from the emperors. He established the Kamakura shogunate in Kamakura.

1165-1168 -- reign of the79th emperor of Japan, Emperor Rokujo (1164 1176).

1168-1180 -- reign of the 80th emperor of Japan, Emperor Takakura (1161 1181)

1180-1185  --  reign of  81st emperor of Japan, Emperor Antoku (1178 1185).

1183  --  Go-Toba is proclaimed emperor by the Genj.  Therefore, there were two proclaimed emperors, one living in Heian-kyō and another in flight towards the south.

1185-1333 -- Kamakura period marked by governance by the Kamakura Shogunate, officially established in 1192 by the first Kamakura shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo.

1183-1198 reign of the 82nd emperor of Japan Emperor Go-Toba (11801239).

1192 -- the first Kamakura shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo.




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