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MOVIE REVIEW : Japanese 'Rikyu' Echoes 'A Man for All Seasons'

February 08, 1991|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is impossible to watch Hiroshi Teshigahara's superb "Rikyu" ( the Nuart) without a sense of watching history repeating itself. Some 60 years before the events of this film took place, Sir Thomas More, England's Lord Chancellor, found himself--a staunch Catholic and man of conscience--unable to swear to the Act of Supremacy that would grant King Henry VIII authority over the English church, thus permitting him to divorce.

In similar circumstances, a similar 16th-Century man, Sen-No Rikyu (Rentaro Mikuni), tea master and revered adviser to Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who had brought all of Japan under his rule in the 1580s, concluded that it was pure folly for Hideyoshi to try to conquer Korea and China as well. Consequently, "Rikyu" unfolds much like "A Man for All Seasons."

The inevitable fate of Rikyu has for 30 years intrigued Teshigahara, director of "Woman in the Dunes" (1963), one of the most famous and stylized of Japanese pictures. During a 17-year hiatus from feature films Teshigahara inherited his father's prestigious Tokyo flower-arranging school and studied pottery, ancient Japanese arts celebrated in "Rikyu" along with the tea ceremony. Indeed, at its heart "Rikyu" is concerned with the eternal, universal struggle between art and politics, between the impulse to create and the impulse to destroy.

A deeply reflective experience, "Rikyu" is also one of the most beautiful films you will ever see. Cinematographer Fujita Morita has brought a burnished glow to period interiors and to the breathtaking costumes of Emi Wada, who won an Oscar for her contributions to Kurosawa's "Ran." Completing the artistic perfection of the film is world-renowned composer Toru Takemitsu's score, so spare and unobtrusive as to seem at times no more than the strum of a samisen for punctuation.

Having succeeded Japan's most powerful warlord, Nobunaga, upon his assassination in 1582, Hideyoshi soon appointed Rikyu as his tea master. For Rikyu the tea ceremony, held in a specially designed room, was becoming an increasingly spiritual experience, combining the arts of architecture, flower arranging, painting and pottery with the ritual of preparing and serving the beverage into one aesthetic whole.

For Hideyoshi, Rikyu's mastery of the tea ceremony was a matter of prestige, a way of impressing lesser lords. As a man of learning and more worldly than most, having been born and raised in the port city of Sakai at a time when trade with the Portuguese flourished, Rikyu became both political counselor and father confessor for Hideyoshi.

Although Teshigahara, as an artist, strives for the simplicity which Rikyu himself sought, he and co-writer Genpei Akasegawa, in adapting Yaeko Nogami's novel, acknowledge the thorny complexity of the fundamentally loving relationship between tea master and warlord, two fatally different kinds of men. Hideyoshi, upon his accession to a lonely power, was a peasant, shrewd in battle but, as played by the wide-ranging Yamazaki, a comical bumpkin in ceremonial life. As insecure as Hideyoshi is, he's smart enough to trust and listen to Rikyu--until overcome by ambition.

For the veteran Rentaro Mikuni "Rikyu" (Times-rated Mature for complex adult themes) is the crowning achievement of a long and distinguished career. No portrayal could be more interior, with Mikuni's tea master saying very little but saying much with every glance. For serious film lovers the long-awaited return of Hiroshi Teshigahara could not be more welcome.

'Rikyu'

Rentaro Mikuni: Sen-no Rikyu

Tsutomu Yamazaki: Hideyoshi Toyotomi

Yoshiko Mita Riki: (Rikyu's wife)

Kyoko Kishida: Kita-no-mandokoro (Hideyoshi's wife)

A Capitol Entertainment release of Shochiku presentation of a co-production of Teshigahara Productions/Shochiku Eizo/C. Itoh & Co./Hakuhodo, Inc. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara. Producers Yoshisuke Mae, Hiroshi Morie. Executive producers Shizuo Yamanouchi, Hisao Minemura, Kazuo Watanabe. Screenplay by Genpei Akasegawa, Teshigahara; based on a novel by Yaeko Nogami. Cinematographer Fujio Morita. Costumes Emi Wada. Music Toru Takemitsu. Art directors Yoshinobu Nishioka, Shigemori Shigeta. In Japanese, with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for complex adult themes).

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