"The mats? A custom at these times so our feet won't slip in the blood."
Set in 1725, the movie is an indictment of the samurai system. This was my favorite role of the great Toshiro Mifune. I think it is an interesting commentary on the loyalty to a system that had been so engrained in Japanese society. Isaburo decides that family is more important than the samurai code. In the petition that Isaburo and his son Yogoro write "It is the cruelest form of tyranny. It runs counter to the laws of humanity and cannot be condoned."
The movie makes the point that the clan, or the state, is not always right. The Laws of Humanity must come before the laws of man. Director Masaki Kobayashi is making a very strong point that it is a man's duty to rebel and fight against tyranny.
In the scene where the clan demanded Isaburo and Yogoro to commit seppuku, Isaburo replies "We want something before we die. Bring us three heads! Lord Matsudaira, ruler of the Aizu Clan! Chamberlain Yanase! Stewart Takahashi! Bring me the heads of these villains who stole my son's wife." The fight is on, and Isaburo is not going out quietly. Isaburo has been backing up his whole life. He is trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. He has always done what he was supposed to do. But now he has been pushed too far, and now, like in his fighting style, after backing up he attacks. Isaburo said he feels free for the first time in his life. Isaburo rebels against all the chains that have held him his whole life.
In the end Isaburo must duel his friend and rival, Tatewaki, to leave for Edo with his grand-daughter, Tomei. What follows is some of the best dialogue in samurai cinema.
Isaburo : "Don't cry even if I don't return. For he will become your foster father and raise you. Well then"
Tatewaki :"You lose. Let me remain. It's better so."
Isaburo : "What?"
Tatewaki : "Isaburo, lose to me for Tomei's sake."
Isaburo :"No. No matter how strong you are, how perfect your defense, I'll defeat you and go to Edo with Tomei."
Isaburo then goes on to show why he might be the best samurai in all of the samurai movies. As he lies dying, Isaburo tells his infant grand-daughter to grow up to be just like her mother. A great film by Masaki Kobayashi .