Japan, the 1860's: Fighting to overthrow the Shogunate after 3 centuries, the
Imperial Restauration Force travels the countryside as what seems to be merely
a promotional campaign.
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Thus captain Sagara (Takahiro Tamura) has little reservations when simple
footsoldier Gonzo (Toshiro Mifune) wants to lend his hat (which looks like a
red lion mane - hence the title) & outfit for 3 days, to ride into his
hometown & pretending to be the peasant's son no more but a captain of the
But when he enters the village he meets way more resistance than he has
expected, as greedy landowner & tax-collector KomaTora (Tokue Hanazawa),
crooked moneylender Kosoyama & corrupt magistrate Kamio (Yunosuke Ito) have
the inhabitants pretty much under their thumb, putting everabody who can't pay
up the taxes to slave labour in the mines or the brothel - & even Gonzo's
former bride-to-be Tomi (Shima Iwashita) has been turned into a prostitute.
But with the help of idealistic pickpocket Sanji (Minori Terada) & the
village's teacher Gensai (Eisei Amamoto) & his students/revolutionaries,
Gonzo manages to free the working-slaves & the prodtitutes, & he is
even reunited with Tomi, & he overthrows the magistrate - but by doing so
he of cource incites the anger of his opponents, as they, even on the day of
Gonzo's celebration of his victory, make up a plan of how to get rid of him
& suffocate the revolution before it has really begun.
So, they lure Gonzo into a trap, having him ride out of town to free some
more slaves with the intention to kill him along the way. Meanwhile, with the
help of Tomi (!), they plant some doubt in the heads of the revolutionaries,
who have barricaded themselves inside the former magistrates' building, &
soon the magistrate with a squad of soldiers attempts to re-take the building
... but the plan failed, since Sanji managed to keep up the morale inside the
building, while Gonzo managed to kill his assassins & come back to town in
Another plan of Gonzo's adversaries, to hire ronin Hanzo (Etsushi Takahashi)
fails merely because of the fact that Hanzo lives strictly to his own codex,
& as long as his clients hire other assassins beside him he refuses to do
his job - & other assassins they hire, as soon the mysterious Mobile Unit
One is in town ...
In the meantime, for Gonzo, everything seems to go great & he sends of
Sanji with his lion-mane hat to go fetch Sagara with his squad - but Sanji is
in for a surprise, as in the meantime Sagara was accused as an impostor by
another Imperial Commander & he & his squad were beheaded - leaving
Gonzo, who was supposed to be the advance party, the last man standing.
And as, through his red lion mane, Sanji was identified as one of Sagara's
soldiers, the Imperial squad proceeds to punish him too - leaving just enough
life in him to bring the bad news to the village & Gonzo.
As Gonzo fights the advance party, he suddelnly receives unexpected help
from Hanzo, who has decided it is no longer his job to kill Gonzo but to help
him, But as the Imperial Squad finally hits town in full force they fight -
with gunpower - & kill almost everybody remotely associated with the
village, Kamio, Komatora & Kosoyama as well as Mobile Unit One & Hanzo
& his girl Oyoo (Jitsuko Yoshimura). Only Gonzo is persuaded to flee &
bring the revolution to other towns by his own mother, but as he sees Tomi
being brutally shot, he decides to take on the army instead ... & dies in a
rain of bullets.
But the seeds of the revolution do start to prosper anyhow, as, to mourn the
death of Gonzo, whom the villagers affectionately called their commander, the
whole village starts a trancelike dance & chant that is too much for even
the guns of the Imperial troopers, & they are driven ozut of the village -
if only for a day or 2 ...
This is basically another retelling of the simpleton who - just trying to
show off - gets caught up in the confusions of a revolution & ends up doing
good, & this time it's told as an entertaining & enjoyable light
adventure story that has the comedic & the grim details carefully
outbalanced, & that of course greatly benefits from Toshiro Mifune in the