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Posts Tagged ‘samurai’

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell

Wednesday, January 10th, 2024

LONE WOLF AND CUB: WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL is the final film in the LONE WOLF AND CUB series – six films released between 1972 and 1974. It has the same writer of the previous one, Tusutomu Nakamura, but a director who’s new to the series, Yoshiyuki Kuroda (THE GREAT YOKAI WAR).

This is a good one to watch in winter because, as poetically described in the title, a bunch of it takes place in the snow. It opens with our deadly assassin papa and child, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), skiing their weapon-filled babycart down a mountain. Must be a tall one because time passes, the sky turns dark, Ogami’s carrying a torch. Then the screen turns completely white and you see their silhouettes slowly become visible in the distance, like the opening of FARGO. And come to think of it I’m surprised this babycart doesn’t have a built in woodchipper. It has just about everything else you could need. Maybe it does and we just don’t see him use it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Haunted Samurai (1970)

Monday, December 4th, 2023

HAUNTED SAMURAI, a.k.a. SHINOBI DEMON: DUEL IN THE WIND, a.k.a. KAZE NO TENGU (1970), is an obscure samurai movie I uncharacteristically blind-bought from Diabolik DVD. It’s apparently never been on video and they made a limited edition blu-ray and I went for it.

Diabolik say it’s “based on the works of Goseki Kojima, the artist behind the legendary Lone Wolf and Cub.” Not the writer, Kazuo Koike, who was involved in quite a few movies, but the illustrator, Kojima. According to the film historian commentary track it’s based on a manga he wrote and illustrated, and it sounds like he calls it “Donenke” or something like that, but I could find no information about it anywhere. The opening credits do play over what looks like Kojima’s art.

(Update: It’s called Doninki [土忍記, “Earth Ninja Chronicles”] Thanks Matthew B.!)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

“Avow Life and Be True”

RUROUNI KENSHIN PART II: KYOTO INFERNO (2014) is an epic sequel that builds on everything I loved about the first one (trust me – check that out if you haven’t!) and expands on this idea of a post-war world where various veterans either try to bring back the violence or maintain (and enjoy) the new order. Our hero is so badass and yet so against killing that he wanders around with a “reverse blade” – a sword sharpened only on the back side – to whoop ass and take names but not lives.

Played by one-time Kamen Rider (and co-star of my beloved SAMURAI MARATHON) Takeru Satoh, Kenshin is younger and prettier than I usually prefer in an action hero. But he makes it almost a badass juxtaposition, and he’s such a cool character – he’s seen shit you never dreamed of, but doesn’t use it as an excuse to brood. He’s quiet but not exactly stoic – he smiles and seems content during peace time, even laughs when he sees himself parodied in a play. Everywhere he goes people seem to recognize him as Battousai, the name he went by when he was a legendary killsword (the government’s teenage super-murdering-the-fuck-out-of-everybody assassin). But his friends call him Kenshin, the name he took after abandoning his bloody sword at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The real him.

Admittedly he sounds a little dorky later when he angrily growls the villain’s name to show that he’s had it, but I forgive him. I appreciate that we don’t see that side of him very often. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins

Friday, April 16th, 2021

I know Rurouni Kenshin was a ‘90s anime series (sometimes called Samurai X) based on a manga and all that. I don’t usually pay much attention to that sort of thing, but also I knew there was a series of live action movies starting in 2012 with this one, RUROUNI KENSHIN I: ORIGINS. And I’ve been hearing for a long time that it has some really good sword fighting in it, so I’ve been meaning to see it.

But man, if I knew what it was about, I wouldn’t have waited so long! It’s true that it has some good sword fighting and other fun samurai shit in it, but also this is that most rare and beautiful type of action movie: the type that fits lots of fun action into a story that preaches against violence. It shows that nothing could be more badass than a guy who can kill a whole mob of people on his own but chooses to prove it to them while not doing it.

To put it another way, the hero Kenshin (Takeru Satoh, SAMURAI MARATHON) was such a scary motherfucker killing people for the government in his teens that everybody knew him as “Battosai the Killsword,” but now he’s so against killing that he travels around with a sword that is only sharpened on the back side of the blade.

So yeah, don’t worry, he’ll still be sword fighting. He’ll just be whapping them instead of slashing them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Samurai Marathon

Monday, January 25th, 2021

There’s something about samurai movies that I find really comforting and grounding. People walking around slowly, just trying to enjoy some baths or poetry or something, but their codes and their swords come into conflict. I don’t know, there are different reasons why different ones appeal to me so much, but seeing a good one is always invigorating, so I figured it would be good to see one early in this new year to get things started on the right foot.

I chose SAMURAI MARATHON, officially a 2019 release, though it came to VOD and disc during quarantine time in 2020. It’s a Japanese language film, based on a Japanese novel (The Marathon Samurai: Five Tales of Japan’s First Marathon by Akihiro Dobashi), with a screenplay co-written by Hiroshi Saito (SAMURAI FICTION) and Kikumi Yamagishi (HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI), but it’s directed and co-written by Mr. Bernard Rose of London, England. Obviously a samurai movie by the director of CANDYMAN is gonna catch my eye. And I’m sure glad it did because, my friends, I loved this movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blood Beat

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

BLOOD BEAT (1983) is another Christmas-set (as opposed to Christmas-themed) horror movie that I watched on Shudder. This one I had heard of as a notably crazy movie, and I knew it had been released on blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome. It’s about a family being stalked by the spirit of a samurai. I believe.

It’s a low budget movie shot in Wisconsin – on film, though. Don’t worry. It has a little bit of the awkwardness and amateurishness that can make regional horror charming, which serves to make it more impressive when some of it seems pretty legit. The lead couple give fairly natural performances, the most inconsistent actor turns out to be an endearing character anyway, things that wouldn’t be impressive in a bigger production – like a guy jumping through a window and hitting the ground, or getting a nice shot of the fog or a frozen lake – seem triumphant. And it’s very weird. Sometimes in a goofy way, usually in a pretty cool way. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

Monday, May 4th, 2020

LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL is #4 out of six LONE WOLF AND CUB films, and comes pretty directly out of the stories from the late Kazuo Koike’s manga about the former Shogun’s-executioner who was framed by the god damn Yagyu Clan (fuck those guys) and now travels Japan with his young son Daigoro, working as a freelance assassin along his “Demon’s Path” toward vengeance and damnation. He usually ends up doing something very honorable that seems a little more like redemption, but he doesn’t see it that way. He thinks he’s the devil. This was before heavy metal, too.

This one’s kinda got an A and B plot. One of them (take your pick which letter it is) involves the badass Oyuki (Michi Azuma, who played a different character in BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX – they should do that in more American movie series), a former “sword mistress” gone rogue so she can avenge her former mentor for raping her. One of her trademarks is to cut off the top knots of all the motherfuckers who come after her, which in their culture seems to be even more humiliating than when Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake used to badly shave the heads of those he defeated in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ghost Warrior

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

GHOST WARRIOR is sort of a sci-fi action drama that was made in 1984, but shelved and thawed two years later. It’s about a samurai named Yoshimitsu (Hiroshi Fujioka, Kamen Rider, IN THE LINE OF DUTY III) who’s just minding his own business – okay, I guess he’s fighting some dudes and forced to jump falls off a cliff – when suddenly he wakes up 400 years later in a lab. Somebody found him frozen in a cave and he ended up at the California Institute of Cryosurgical Research.

By the time the man in charge, Dr. Alan Richards (John Calvin, Tales of the Gold Monkey, CRITTERS 3), recruits “Oriental history” expert/narrator of the film Chris Welles (Janet Julian, HUMONGOUS, FEAR CITY, KING OF NEW YORK) to consult, she’s already read rumors about “The Frozen Shogun” in the newspaper, but just thinks it’s an archaeological discovery. It’s immediately clear that Dr. Richards is an asshole because when she walks into the lobby to report to the job he’s standing right next to her and doesn’t bother to welcome her, introduce himself or even look at her. Then he pulls a John Hammond and brings her for a tour without warning her there’s gonna be a live samurai involved. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blade of the Immortal

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a 2017 samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. It’s his 100th film! Can you believe that shit? I haven’t gotten into his trademark pervert madman vibe in movies like ICHI THE KILLER, but nothing I’ve seen by him has been a slapdash Fred Olen Ray type affair. There is real effort and craft involved, and he’s made a few excellent samurai films. Instead of remaking an old school chanbara as with 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI this one is adapting a manga that ran for about twenty years, so it’s less classically structured, more unwieldy, with supernatural elements and outrageous imagery (crazy face paint, strange weapons, goofy anime hair).

This aesthetic looks particularly cool in the stark black and white of the prologue, where we learn the bloody, convoluted origins of the titleistical immortal. As a young samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura, Howl in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE) was tricked into assassinating a whistleblower. He thought it would right things to kill the corrupt officials behind the scheme, but one was his little sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki, Mary in MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER)’s husband, and the grief drove her insane. (read the rest of this shit…)

Seven Samurai

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

tn_sevensamuraiThere are some movies that everybody knows are great and you’d be a fool to deny it. One such movie involves a group of cooperating samurai numbering seven. This is their review.

1954 was a pretty good year for film. Many of the films that were popular in the U.S. are still watched and discussed today: REAR WINDOW, WHITE CHRISTMAS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, CARMEN JONES. The best picture/director/actor/supporting actress winner was ON THE WATERFRONT, a movie that turned out to be, you know, fairly influential for actors. In Japan, meanwhile, the two biggest hits were WHAT IS YOUR NAME?: PART 3 and CHUSHINGURA: HANA NO MAKI, YUKI NO MAKI. I don’t think those ever made it to video over here, and little information exists about them in my usual reference sources. The first one appears to be a romance sequel and the latter sounds like it would have something to do with the 47 RONIN story.

In third place at the Japanese box office that year, though, was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI. It was his fifteenth movie, but his first samurai movie. Would you believe it made more money than the original GODZILLA, which also came out that year? Doesn’t matter now. Both have persevered. And SEVEN SAMURAI is a movie justifiably worshiped by snooty film buffs (and in the Criterion Collection) while still being hugely influential in all the lower-brow genres I love: martial arts, westerns and straight up action.

People always complain about long movies, but here’s a nearly 3 1/2 hour one (the longest of Kurosawa’s career) that’s never a chore to watch. It’s a great story, simple and elegant, but it takes the time to let us get to know its characters, and to give us that feeling of waiting. Some day after the barley is harvested bandits will attack the village. We want that day to come and be over with but we also want all the time we can to get ready.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I’m proud to be the latest one to remind you that you need to see this movie. You need to. Everybody else, you know the story, but let’s go over it in case it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)