Samurai Cinema

I’ve been sitting on this topic for some time.  I try and write about things I have at least a cursory knowledge of.  Over the past year plus, I have come to love Japanese Samurai movies.  More specifically,  chanbara (Sword fighting) cinema.  They influenced the American westerns that I love so much.  They are virtually indistinguishable, except one has a sword, the other a gun.

What the Samurai movies do have is a deep cultural history and significance.  Westerns are probably as far from truth as you can get, for the most part.

7-samuraiWhen it comes to things like movies, I tend not to like the one bench-marking, genre defining movie.  In the Samurai movie genre, it is almost always the Seven Samurai, buy acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa.  I guess I should rephrase the previous sentence.  I did like Seven Samurai, it is a hugely long epic that doesn’t feel quite as long as it is.  It is generally lauded as the greatest Samurai movie/Action movie of all time.  This is where I have to disagree.

For one, the amazing Toshirô Mifune, who if you have seen only a few Samurai movies, you have definitely seen him, just the same year released the first movie in the Samurai Trilogy.  Not just the same year, but a day before the release of Seven Samurai.  Though it was only part one, those three movies are fantastic.  A bucket load more entertaining, more finely put together.  Why isn’t this movie more famous than Seven Samurai?  Most likely because it was a Kurosawa movie.  Who is Hiroshi Inagaki?  No one would really know, he is over shadowed by the likes of Kurosawa.

Maybe I don’t see what all the fuss is about with Kurosawa.  I watched Rashomon.  One of Kurosawa’s most famous and beloved.  It was a long and tedious film.  Showing several different versions of an event is clever, but it was a bore fest.

Next I watched Ran.  It was fairly good.  My only problem going into it was the knowledge that it is supposed to be King Lear, and fantastic Shakespeare play.  Though it mirrored the basic events and characters, he deviated too far.  At a few points, it is just a war movie, absolutely nothing to do with Lear, then slowly goes back.   I will admit, if I didn’t know it was about Lear, and have never read the play, I would have enjoyed the movie so much more.  I haven’t seen every Kurosawa film to get a perfect idea on his work, I plan on seeing more:  Red Beard, and Throne of Blood (Macbeth).

Harakiri (1962)

Harakiri (1962)

I love how there are many different types of Samurai films.  Straight up crazy slash em’ ups, or slow, character driven movies.  You can go from Boachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight to one of the greatest Samurai films: Harakiri.  Even the recent remake, while not as good, still was fantastic.

I haven’t seen too many modern day Samurai movies.  The Twilight Samurai was fantastic.  More along the lines of Harakiri.  It takes a more realistic approach.  Though it is considered a Samurai movie, it isn’t a sword fighting one.  Takashi Miike has made a couple remakes.  Harakiri and The 13 Assassins.  Both of which are fantastic.  They blend the old school with the new.  Great story, mixed with great characters, mixed with sword slashing craziness.

One of my favorites is The Sword of Doom.  Wow, what a cool movie.  Very impressive sword fights.  Quick and flowing.  It is pretty unique.  The main character is essentially a bad guy.  The opening sequence in the movie shows a young woman and her grandfather walking happily up a mountain path.  They stop at a shrine, the young woman goes to fetch some water.  Our main character walks to the old man and kills him.  It really shocked me, and told me I wasn’t watching a typical Samurai film.  Plus, it is absolute mayhem at the end.  It leaves you on a cliff hanger in a way.

I just ordered the entire 26 movie long series: Zatoichi.  Which I am really looking forward to.  I have heard nothing but good things.  Plus it is the longest running Japanese movie series.

Please, if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

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