When Oshima left Shochiku studios, he was hired by another major studio, Toei. To direct The Christian Rebel, the story of a young leader fighting against an oppressive government. Based on this short plot, the subject seems to fit Oshima’s mind very well. After all, he’s the director of Night & Fog in Japan, which was all about a group of left-wing rebels failing to achieve anything.
But, I think Oshima didn’t choose the best way to sabotage this (commercial) project;
# He doesn’t think in terms of genre, and never try. Instead of exploring the genre possibilities, like so many (subversive) studio directors known for playing with symbols & elements to tell stories (Okamoto’s Sword of Doom, Kudo’s Great Killing…), Oshima is only playing with the audience’s expectations. You came to see an entertaining film with some fights? Keep dreaming.
# The film is primarily made of long takes. One could say it’s just Oshima’s usual style. That’s also one interesting way to speed up the shooting process (remember, studio director Tai Kato did it too). And it deliberately slows the pace of the film, making it more unspectacular (boring, one also might say).
# This chambara ends up being a down-to-earth drama with peasants & samurais talking about religion (or cutting small woods). With Toei star Hashizo Okawa acting like a true monolith, being unheroic. uncharismatic (unattractive too?).
# I think with Assassination, another young director of that time called Masahiro Shinoda, succeeded where Oshima failed. Because Shinoda didn’t try to be smarter than the audience. He embraced genre elements and played with them. To create this original (and intellectual) chambara, questioning the official view of Japanese History, as well as deconstructing genre icons.