The Secret of the Urn (Tange Sazen: Hien iaigiri)

Secret of the Urn is a 1966 Japanese samurai film which, like many depictions of people with disabilities from that era, shows the newly disabled person as becoming a nasty, bitter person unwilling to find gainful employment and unable to keep a love interest. Samurai Samanosuke has been ordered to duel an accused spy and fiance of his childhood friend (and crush) Lady Hagino, but when the spy claims he wants to commit seppukku Samanosuke moves closer to act as his second and gets the blade of the spy’s short sword in his eye for his trouble. He finishes off the spy with blood streaming down his face, but the local constabulary declare him a madman and try to kill him. In the ensuing melee, Samanosuke loses his right arm.

Unable to conceive of a future in which he remains gainfully employed by his fief lord, Samanosuke cuts off his topknot, changes his name to Tange Sazen, and becomes a ronin. Yet Sazen manages to develop a one-handed style of swordfighting on his own, kimono sleeve empty but paunch and right side looking suspiciously full. (Guess they didn’t have any real amputee actors back in the 1960s, huh?)

Sazen polishes his sword using one foot to hold the cloth in place.

A year later when a couple of small armies burst through the cloth walls of his one-room hut vying for possession of an ancient urn filled with money, he takes up with a band of thieves and streetwalkers to defend his claim on it. They often refer to him as a monster, yet are happy to share in his spoils. They also laugh about how he could scare small children, yet one stray child takes a liking to him and wants to learn the way of the samurai.

Lady Hagino tracks Sazen down at a house of ill repute one day, hoping to bring him back to his former life, but he bitterly spurns her. To be even more of a jerk, he even tells her he’s practically married to a prostitute (which comes as news to said prostitute). Lady Hagino leaves in tears, but Sazen successfully fends off the bad guys to claim his reward from the Yagyu clan.


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