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Samurai movies

A friend mentioned he’s starting to watch some Samurai movies and wanted to know what I would suggest. Now I could just rattle off a few titles, but I figured the best thing I could do it list off the movies I have in my collection and give each one a little review so you can all decide if anything strikes your fancies. I’m going to link the versions I have, but you may need to find your own depending on region or availability. Since I’ve got a region free player I can get things from where ever and I do. So check around, don’t just grab whatever I linked.

With Kurosawa as a base, we’ll start with his movies.
Seven Samurai is a great movie, but for its time it was actually an Anti-Chambra. Most the samurai dramas around at that time dealt with the machinations of the high and the mighty. There were greatly movies about royalty and nobility and what not. This is a movie where the high and the mighty don’t exist. Kurosawa took almost every convention around at the time and turned it on it’s ear, which makes it even more interesting.

After that, you’ll want to look into Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The first is a black comedy where the rules that were upset by Seven Samurai are jumped on until they’re smashed into little tiny pieces. Sanjuro is a more traditional chambra, but with the main character from Yojimbo thrown in just to see what he’ll do.

I’ve seen The Hidden Fortress, but I don’t actually own it. It’s good, it’s got the inspiration for R2-D2 and C3PO in it.

After those you can get into his Shakespeare adaptations, which include Ran (A version of King Lear) and Throne of Blood which is Macbeth. Both are loose adaptations, both are greatly interesting but I wouldn’t personally put them up as his best films, but you’ve got to consider the company they’re in when I say that.

Rashomon is the last of his films that I have. This is more drama than action, and more an examination of how points of view differ from person to person.

Then you have the Saumrai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple and Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
These are good, but they aren’t my favorite. Part of it is that I find when I watch them I want to do it all in order and that’s about 5 hours out of your day right there. Also, the Criterion DVDs are very dark. I don’t know if it’s like this for all versions, but I have to put the brightness all the way up to see the movie. That’s a huge distraction.

Harakiri should actually be called Seppuku but Criterion has a thing about using the titles the movie first was sold under in this country. This is a very good drama about hypocrisy and honor, with only a little bit of action. That is one of the questions you need to ask yourself before starting. Do you want action or do you want drama? Most movies have a little of both, but they will invariably favor one over the other and when I mean favor I’m saying there will only be a little of one and a lot of the other. This one is more drama than action, but it’s very good.

Samurai Fiction is a send up of all things Chambra. It’s got action, it’s got comedy, it’s got rock music and ninjas. It’s played like a tribute to old Kurosawa films, but it shows it’s hand in places and revels it’s comedic intent.

Ronin Gai Is one hell of a great movie. It’s like they called up every samurai trope and asked it to come over and play in what I can’t help but feel would make a great film noir if someone clever put their mind to it. There isn’t a ton of action until the end, but when it starts it really clicks. The drama and action are both really good, but this movie favors drama a bit more.

Goyokin is another good movie. This one is action and triller. Not so much drama, but a good deal of fun.

When the Last Sword Is Drawn is almost all drama. There is some action, but this is really a character study movie. A very enjoyable one though, I really like this.

The next three are all by Yôji Yamada and unless I’m wrong, I think they’re all based on the writings of one guy. I think the first two are even based on the same book.
The Twilight Samurai is all drama and some romance.
The Hidden Blade feel like a remake of Twilight Samurai, but I maintain they’re different enough to enjoy.
Likewise Love and Honor is all romance and drama. It’s not the same basic story again though, this one is different even if there is a basic pattern all three follow.

I only have Kitano Takeshi’s version of Zatoichi in my collection, but if the rest of the series is like this then I can recomend it for the action side. Even though this is clearly a Kitano movie, it’s very much an action period peice and it’s good for that. Not so much for heavy drama. Good story though, and good action.

Now a while ago I bought two collections of movies on the cheap. The price tag is a little misleading because the movies are actually well transferred and good quality. What happened was the company that digitized them went under and this second company grabbed the digital masters for a song and now can sell them extra cheap.
Shogun Collection came with four movies, some good, some not so good.
Swords Of Vengeance (or Fall of Ako Castle) Is the best out of these. It’s a telling of the 47 Ronin and is a solid period piece without some of the silliness that drowns out the rest of these two collections.
Shogun’s Samurai is the second best in the collection, in my view anyway. It’s a good action drama, mixing intrigue with fighting. It dips into the waters of silliness once in a while, but not offensively. It’s just not a serious as some of the others.
Shogun’s Shadow probably isn’t bad, but I got bored with it and switched it off about halfway through. After that, I just never went back to it. I probably should, but at the time I’d watched everything in this package and the next package and I was getting a little tired of the whole thing. It’s probably a fine movie, I don’t actually know.
Shogun’s Ninja showed up in the same package and it’s laughable. Go watch it on Joost, at the one hour and one minute mark the hero starts doing interpretive dance as a form of mourning. It’s actually not such a bad movie, but it’s more of a ninja movie than a samurai flick. It’s very clear where the main competition was because this is much trying to be a Kung Fu movie.
The other package was The Samurai Collection and it came with less serious fare.
G.I. Samurai isn’t really bad per say, it’s just not much of a samurai movie. It’s more clashing modern and ancient warfare.
Legend Of The Eight Samurai is more of a fantasy story. It is at least a samurai movie though, albeit a samurai fantasy.
Ninja Wars isn’t really a samurai movie either. It’s a completely insane movie involving head swaps, evil wizards, and all sorts of really weird shit. Seriously, they cut off two women’s heads and then put them on each other’s bodies. And instead of people being declared ‘straight jacket forever’ crazy, because of magic, it works and they both live through the rest of the movie. It’s a pretty batshit film.

There is an unconnected trilogy by Yuji Shimomura which carries a lot of the same themes and ideas. They’re also all about the same level of action mixed with comic book ideas. These are mangas come to life.
Versus has guns, zombies, swords, demons, blood, gore, and almost no plot. If it had car chases and velociraptors I would claim we could just stop making movies forever because perfection had been achieved. I think the total budget for this movie was a $1.75 so it looks super cheap, but it’s fun.
Azumi is based on a manga and it holds up well as an action movie. Some of the fights are pretty neat, some are a little unconvincing, over all it’s fun. Azumi 2 is off to one side because someone else directed it. It’s not quite as good as the first one, but it’s still a good manga come to life action movie.
Death Trance is all kinds of goofy, but a lot of fun. It’s sort of post apocalypse fantasy with guns, swords, demons, guns and a guy dragging a coffin around with a little girl. Yes, it’s dumb, but I like it dumb sometimes.

I’m going to throw in Shinobi, even though it’s really another manga inspired ninja flick because it works with enough of these. It’s another action filled story light number sort of Romeo and Juliet style.

I’m not putting in The Last Samurai or Le Samouraï for various reasons. With the first, it’s not so much a samurai movie as it is a mix of Glory and Dances with Wolves set in Japan. With the later, it’s a French crime movie and only the title holds it to the group.

I think that’s all the movies I’ve got with samurai in them. I hope this was helpful.

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June 19, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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