Posts Tagged ‘samurai’

The Last Samurai

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

tn_lastsamuraiBack in 2003, when THE LAST SAMURAI was new, I had a cynical, kneejerk reaction to it. “Yeah, right… Tom Cruise is the last samurai? Who’s next, someone from the brand new TV show this year America’s Top Model?” I was offended that they wouldn’t make a movie just about samurai, it had to be about the white guy that meets the samurai.

Some things I wasn’t taking into account at that time:

I. The DANCES WITH WOLVES type story of a westerner taken in by an enemy tribe of some kind and learning their ways is a longstanding tradition, and it’s a cool idea to do one with samurai instead of Native Americans. In fact it was partly inspired by real stories of a French soldier who did something like that.

II. There are hundreds of great samurai movies made in Japan, and director Edward Zwick of COURAGE UNDER FIRE was not about to beat them at their own game. It’s simply more interesting if he does his own thing here than if he just tries to imitate Japanese samurai movies. Come on.

III. What the fuck are you talking about here 2003 Vern, you LOVE the white ninja tradition of movies – ENTER THE NINJA, NINJA, AMERICAN NINJA, Steven Seagal… how could there not be value in seeing the big expensive studio from-the-director-of-GLORY version of that?
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Samurai Cop

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

tn_samuraicopA Japanese gang called The Katana Gang is on a rampage, so the LAPD call in a specialist.

“So they call him Samurai, huh?” asks the gang leader Fujiyama when he hears about this long-haired Fabio-lookin motherfucker played by former Sylvester Stallone bodyguard Matt Hannon.

“Yes,” explains right hand man Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar). “His real name is Joe Marshall. They call him ‘Samurai.’ He speaks fluent Japanese. He got his martial arts training from the masters in Japan. He was brought over here from the police force in San Diego to fight us.”

This being 1989, the year after ABOVE THE LAW, might have something to do with that backstory. The poster, which has nothing to do with the actual content of the movie, is definitely going for a MANIAC COP vibe. I think there’s some LETHAL WEAPON influence here too, or at least it’s trying to follow the formula of the white cop with loyal black partner who’s kind of bemused at how far the white guy goes over the line in his enforcement of the law. Samurai and his partner Frank (Mark Frazer, MICROWAVE MASSACRE) have alot of weird, sometimes racially uncomfortable banter about what their boss is gonna do to his “charcoal black ass” and stuff like that.

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The chief is pretty funny, he’s always angrier than necessary. I like when he yells to one of his employees “You, motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell! Leave me alone! Get a job!”

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American Samurai

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

tn_americansamuraiHow the fuck does a guy become an American samurai? Well, in the case of Drew Collins (David Bradley, AMERICAN NINJA 3-V) when he was a baby he and his parents were traveling in a small plane that crashed into a tree, only he survived, and then he was raised by an old Japanese guy named Tatsuya (John Fujioka, ZATOICHI IN DESPERATION, AMERICAN NINJA, AMERICAN YAKUZA). Finders keepers, you know?

Basically it’s exactly like Superman, except being a white man in Asia doesn’t give him super powers. But he does really good in his sword training anyway. I’m not clear why his adopted father was a samurai swordsman in the 1980s, I suppose it’s kind of along the lines of being a civil war buff. In related news I would like to see a Cannon movie called JAPANESE BLUEBELLY. (read the rest of this shit…)

SIFF review: Unforgiven (2013 Japanese remake)

Friday, May 30th, 2014

tn_unforgiven13There has long been a beautiful cultural exchange between America and Japan. They captivated us with their ninjas and their karate, we let them use our rockabilly. We loaned them Steven Seagal, they sent him back polished into an aikido master. A few samurai movies have been famously remade as westerns, but it’s about time it went in the other direction. Director Sang-il Lee (HULA GIRLS, VILLAIN) has taken a little 1992 movie by the name of Clint Motherfuckin Eastwood’s Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Film Editing Oscar winner UNFORGIVEN and faithfully remade it as a samurai picture.

I think this is the type of remake that’s a sign of respect, not exploitation of an existing title. It’s saying “we all know this great movie UNFORGIVEN, I mean what kind of assholes do you take us for, but here is another take on it for you to enjoy a bit before returning to the original.” Even in that case the impossible part about remaking a Clint Eastwood movie has got to be finding a guy to replace Clint Eastwood. I gotta say, Ken Watanabe was a brilliant choice. He has a stoicism and masculine presence that’s reminiscent of Clint, he kinda looks like him on the poster, and he even knows the guy well as the lead in Eastwood’s underrecognized-even-while-nominated-for-best-picture directorial work LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. But his character Jubei is not just an imitation of Clint’s William Munny. He’s a little less gruff, and even more internal. He talks a little less I think, even skipping a perfect spot to fit in the famous line “Deserve’s got nothin to do with it.” I guess he figures it goes without saying. (read the rest of this shit…)

Samurai Fiction

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

tn_samuraifictionSAMURAI FICTION is a deeply enjoyable period samurai picture, made in 1998 but shot mostly in black and white, so it looks very classical. Not that it’s trying to pass. It occasionally uses more modern filmatics, like a seemingly endless shot pulling back down a road in front of three running samurai, or a slow motion shot of a girl smiling to represent the protagonist being smitten with her – you can imagine a love song playing over it sarcastically, maybe something in a Carpenters or a Barry White.

They don’t quite go that far, but the score is intentionally anachronistic, echoey electric guitar playing with surf, country and rock ‘n roll styles, later drum machines and synthesizers. I like the idea, and some of it works, some of it is cheesy as hell. The one great musical moment in my opinion is a scene where an old man plays a beautiful rendition of “Swanee River” on a saw. You don’t get that in many samurai movies.
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The Great Killing

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

tn_greatkillingRecently I had a stressful week I knew would be spent largely in hospital waiting rooms, so I thought real hard about what kind of movie I could rent that would be comforting to me if I ever got home to watch it. I could’ve gone for a movie I’ve already seen a million times and love, like DIE HARD or something. For some reason my heart said “old samurai movie.”

I don’t know for sure what it is about these things that they appeal to me so much. In a way they’re difficult: I’m completely ignorant of the historical periods depicted, and I have a hard time keeping track of some of the character names and terminology. But in another sense they’re simple. The heroes are always working from a code. They explain the code and then they struggle to follow it, even though they’re living in a dishonorable world, working in a dishonorable system. For them there’s no choice but to follow the code, because they know anyone who doesn’t is an asshole. And then there’s a big sword fight.

There’s usually alot of quiet moments in these movies, rarely an overbearing score, and there’s the simple black and white imagery. Kinda calming to me. So I chose to soothe my soul with a movie about the great killing, and I’m afraid that’s as in “the huge killing,” not “the really good killing.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

tn_harakiriWow, Takashi Miike’s got another great samurai remake under his belt, and this time as far as I’ve heard he didn’t even have to cut out a demon-rape scene to make it classy. Like 13 ASSASSINS it’s got a strong mood and great story built upon the great structure (I’m told) of the original (Masaki Kobayashi’s HARAKIRI [1962]). A word of warning, though: this one is not the action spectacular that 13 A’S is. It’s closer to the classical tradition where it’s a drama about castes, codes, corruption and conflict, and eventually you know they’re gonna pull out the swords, but that’s the cherry on top, not the actual ice cream.

I’d heard that, and it made me hesitant, but it turns out it wasn’t necessary. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last year. I loved it. Not just a LIMITS OF CONTROL “this is trying my patience but is intellectually interesting in some ways” type of appreciation. Even watching it late one night after work I found it genuinely engrossing from beginning to end (although I had to have somebody decode the final scene for me because by that time it was past 3 am and I was losing consciousness). (read the rest of this shit…)

13 Assassins (1963)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Thanks to Takashi Miike’s outstanding remake, this samurai classic has finally been released with subtitles for the Japanese impaired. Also, thanks to the remake, I knew to watch it.

If you saw the remake then you know the story: a guy commits sepukku in protest of the Shogun’s brother, Lord Umigetsu. This forces the ruling class to discuss the uncomfortable fact that a total fuckin maniac is in line to inherit the throne. You can imagine how socially awkward this would be in any society, but this is one where they take ranking, protocol and manners very seriously. I mean, I just told you how he had to kill himself in protest. Not write an editorial. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Loose Canon: LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE & BABYCART AT THE RIVER STYX vs. SHOGUN ASSASSIN

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Every now and then I write a more-in-depth-than-usual study of a movie I consider important and influential in the evolution of Badass Cinema, a movie I believe most fans of the genre would love and all should see and have an opinion on. I call this series THE LOOSE CANON.

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In 1980, a violent samurai movie called SHOGUN ASSASSIN hit American shores. It is the story of Lone Wolf, an assassin trying to avenge the murder of his wife by the Shogun he used to work for. He travels Japan by foot pushing a babycart that  carries a number of weapons and his son Daigoro – who also narrates the movie – and eventually kills the Shogun’s brother. With its weird tone and garish violence, and coming right at the beginning of the decade when Americans became obsessed with Japanese traditions like karate and ninjas, the movie took on a legendary status in pop culture that lasts to this day. Its dialogue and primitive synthesizer score were heavily sampled on the seminal 1995 hip hop album Liquid Swords by GZA, and also heard in KILL BILL VOLUME 2 as little Bebe’s chosen bed time movie.

The one problem with SHOGUN ASSASSIN: it’s an insultingly dumbed down bastardization of two excellent 1972 Japanese films, LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE and LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABYCART AT THE RIVER STYX (the first two installments in a six movie series). (read the rest of this shit…)

Three Outlaw Samurai

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

I never heard of this one until the good ol’ Criterion Collection put it out a few months ago. I was intrigued by the title, which seems to indicate that it is about a trio of samurai who are each outlaws of some kind. And it’s a well-chosen title because that is exactly what it’s about.

It’s a Japanese picture from 1964, so it’s shot in beautiful black and white. It’s the directational debut of Hideo Gosha, whose next movie SWORD OF THE BEAST was also released by Criterion. The story involves three elderly peasants who kidnap the magistrate’s daughter and keep her hostage in a mill. Shit is real bad for the 8 clans in the area and the magistrate won’t listen to their appeals so they got desperate. Some JOHN Q type shit. (read the rest of this shit…)