Ozu introduces us to a widowed family patriarch Mr. Kohayagawa (Ganjiro Nakamura) who is enjoying his merry widowerhood much to the consternation of his three adult daughters, each of whom has a few issues of her own to work out. One daughter, Noriko (Yôko Tsukasa), is trying to fight off an arranged marriage while worrying that her boyfriend is moving all the way to Sapporo. Another daughter, Fumiko (Michiro Aratama), is married but concerned about the family's sake brewing business. And widowed daughter Akiko (Setsuko Hara) is trying to decide if she should seek another husband.
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Trying to parse Nakadai's motives out of the gore is a difficult task. Some of the murders result from somewhat legitimate showdowns, especially later in the film when he is used as a killer for a Shogunate organization in decline. Yet other murders seem to come with the brutally simple justification of "practice," including the slaying of an elderly man (which will come back upon Nakadai later). Nakadai becomes an anti-hero in a true sense of the word. He becomes a figure of total nihilism as the film unfolds along its three-year plotline. His presence becomes like a specter of death, a mythological harbinger of the gravest misfortunate. Yet, he has no moral agenda, and little justification for actions, as if his conscience, the only thing that could make him human, was carefully excised from his mind. What results is a towering figure, deadly and frightening in his capriciousness.
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