This film, which I hadn’t seen before, has gone straight into my personal top ten. It’s the most gorgeous film I’ve ever seen, by a country mile. The leaflet the NFT gave out with this claim it’s too concerned with the aesthetics, at the expense of the story, but I disagree with that on a couple of levels. Firstly, the story is about one of the key figures in the development of Japanese aesthetics, the man who set the style for the tea ceremony (see the Japanese room in the British Museum which does mention him), so the look of the film is thematically crucial. Secondly, I found the visuals contributed hugely to the atmosphere and mood of the film, which in a way was more important than the bare story, which I think would be pretty familiar to a Japanese audience.

These visuals are absolutely jaw-droppingly great, ravishing and varied – every few minutes there seemed to be astonishingly beautiful scenes with a new aesthetic sense and colour palette and composition, stunning scenes and shots of hot water on green tealeaves in a rustic brown vessel, of a bamboo forest in a thunderstorm, of a tearoom made of gold, of a boat on a river seen through long waving grasses, of a single white flower perfectly placed on a wall; plus great art in the backgrounds, magnificent costumes, architectural masterpieces. But this isn’t a static painterly approach similar to, say, Peter Greenaway – director Hiroshi Teshigahara was a serious painter too, but he was also a director of stage plays and operas (and a potter and flower arranger and sculptor and more), so this doesn’t just set everything up beautifully, it keeps the film working along too.

And I’ve not mentioned the acting: Rentaro Mikuni is tremendous in the title role, dignified and serene and inspired, without ever becoming otherworldly or unhuman. The shogun, Rikyu’s employer, is played by Tsutomo Yamazaki, in a style much like Toshiro Mifune, full of swagger and hidden insecurity – but their relationship is a complex one, and the source of the film’s considerable tension and drive. These are two terrific central performances, not overwhelmed by the magnificent appearance of the film, which is some achievement.

One drawback: imagine a British film about Shakespeare, featuring, say, Elizabeth I and Francis Drake. You wouldn’t need to tell the British who they were, or what the Armada was, or what tobacco and potatoes had to do with anything. This might well be confusing to a Japanese viewer, or at least they would miss out on some detail and connotation; I know more about Japan than most Brits, but I felt I was missing quite a lot here in that same way. I recognised the work of one of my favourite painters, Tohaku, before he made a cameo appearance, but that was the limit of my small expertise.