The Buddha (Shaka) (1961) Japan
The Buddha (Shaka) Image Cover
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Director:Kenji Misumi
Date Added:2010-05-10
Genre:Buddha Biography
Tags: Buddhism drama course

Summary: From Midnight Eye (

nspired by Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, Daiei president Masaichi Nagata chose no less than the life of Buddha as the subject of Japan's first 70mm religious epic. Effectively gambling the studio's future on the project, he gave helming duties to Misumi, who was then emboldened by the success of his modest period pieces, which on several occasions had outgrossed Daiei's A-list productions.

The film moves through the deity's life from his renunciation of his father's fortunes and his lengthy meditation under the Bodhi tree, via the transformation of prince Siddharta into Buddha, to the miracles he performs for the poor and needy as his teachings spread across the land. The results are much as one would expect: big sets, thousands of extras, and an all-star cast of Daiei's top stars. Though inevitably less lavish and resplendent than the films that inspired it, this is certainly not for lack of trying, as the climactic destruction of an entire city shows. That all the Indian characters in the film are played by Japanese actors might raise an eyebrow, but Shintaro Katsu as Devadatta is certainly no more outlandish an image than Yul Brynner as an Egyptian pharaoh. (The only non-Japanese in the cast is Filipino actress Charito Solis, employed here mainly, it seems, for the size of her bosom.)

Buddha is occasionally clumsy and has histrionic performances to spare, but while it will never go down into Japanese film history as anything more than an amusing footnote, it does hold great value in the development of Misumi's signature style. The choice to show the Buddha only as a shadow or in silhouette after his emergence from under the Bodhi tree gives the director ample opportunity to experiment with the kind of expressionist compositions that would become such a characteristic in his later work, all the way down to the Baby Cart films.

Nagata's gamble, incidentally, paid off. The success of Buddha paved the way for Misumi to join the ranks of Daiei's top directors, men like Kon Ichikawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. The director declined the prestige, however, and preferred to keep working on his beloved chanbara.