It’s a mild, mild, mild, mild world when a treasure map to a million ryo is discovered in Sadao Yamanaka’s classic comedy.
“Edo is so big it could take ten or twenty years. It’s like being on a quest for vengeance.”
Tange Sazen is a character I had never come across, until this film. A fictional one-armed, one-eyed ronin from the Soma Clan, Sazen has appeared in dozens of films and TV serials, mostly between the 30s and 60s. Much like with 2005’s Zatoichi reboot, there was a Sazen film in 2004, but seemingly little else since. Despite his typically dramatic stories, it seems that his most well-known, both in Japan and abroad, is the 1935 goofball comedy The Million Ryo Pot.
The titular pot is the film’s MacGuffin, a jar supposedly containing a map to one million ryo hidden by an old emperor for any unforeseen military expenses. The old pot is in the possession of a young lord Yagyu Genzaburo (Kunitaro Sawamura). When his older brother, who gave the pot as a wedding gift to his brother, returns to take the pot back, Genzaburo learns of its true nature but not before his wife has sold it to a local merchant.
So begins a mad race to find the pot, which has been given to local boy Yasu (whose actor I can’t for the life of me find) for his goldfish. Things get further complicated when the boy’s father is killed by two thugs, and ends up living with the ronin Tange Sazen (Denjiro Okochi), who is living in and protecting a local izakaya.
The Million Ryo Pot has a lot of moving parts, from Genzaburo’s search for his pot, to the elder Yagyu seeking every pot in Edo, to Sazen and izakaya Madame Ofuji (Shinbashi Kiyozo) looking after the young boy. The stories all converge, as Genzaburo spends his time shooting arrows and hanging with Sazen without even knowing how close he is to the pot. The Million Ryo Pot is part screwball comedy, part domestic drama that is, admittedly, a bit confused about what it wants to be sometimes. The shenanigans aren’t ever over the top, and while this keeps thing grounded, I do wish seeing this that it had taken that one extra step to really push its comedy further.
Lines like “What’s so funny? Go tell the boy his father is dead.” are indications of what I mean. On occasion, the film just dips into really dramatic territory, and a good chunk of the second act focuses on the new family dynamic and this little boy adjusting to his weird new life. It’s not bad drama, by any means, but it does take away from the frankly extremely silly premise of people frantically searching for a treasure map. The Million Ryo Pot does its own thing, with its own pacing and it largely works, but if you’re looking for something like an early Marx Brothers, or Hellzapoppin you’re going to be disappointed.
Knowledge of the chanbara icon isn’t necessary to enjoy the film, though I’d watch it again with a different point of view. Knowing who he is going in might change how you perceive his first scenes, but overall does little to alter the story. It’s a fun time, filled with classic gags, misunderstandings and one violently slain father. Hilarity all around.
Verdict: While not as madcap as it could have been, The Million Ryo Pot has plenty of foolish characters doing foolish things, a heavy helping of sadness, and a million ryo that, let’s face it, will never get found.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Old currencies: So damn many
How much is a mon worth: Fuck if I know
Editing: Absolutely all over the place
The Million Ryo Pot (1935)
Also known as: 丹下左膳余話 百萬両の壺, Tange Sazen Yowa: Hyakuman Ryō no Tsubo
Director: Sadao Yamanaka
Writers: Shintaro Mimura
Denjiro Okochi – Tange Sazen
Shinbashi Kiyozo – Ofuji
Kunitaro Sawamura – Genzaburo Yagyu
Reisaburo Yamamoto – Yokichi
Soji Kiyokawa – Shichibei
Minoru Takase – Shigeju
Ranko Hanai – Ogino