Samurai Warrior (15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment)
Running time: 65 minutes
During the Warring States period of Japanese history the powerful feudal lords would pillage neighbouring lands in the name of unification of the country, forcing many men from small villages into battle to fight for the larger territories. Mimicking the actions of their superiors, whom they wish to supplant one day, are the young males whose acts of hoodlumism earns them the nickname “Evil Little Devils”. One such group in the village of Kinugasa is comprised of wannabe samurai warriors Ryu (Yuma Ishigaki), Gon (Suzunosuke) and Yonesuke (Hidekazu Ichise) who engage in battles with gangs from neighbouring villages where they capture their opponent’s flag as opposed to taking over the entire village. But these acts of hubris are soon disrupted when a young samurai Jojima (Kengo Oguchi) returns from the battlefield and tries to teach these young pretenders a lesson.
On first inspection this is another throwaway, low budget slice of hokum in the vein of the Seiji Chiba efforts which have been foisted upon us recently, and indeed this is true to an extent. However, this one comes with a bit of a pedigree as the director Kenichiro Nishiumi served his apprenticeship as assistant director to none other than the prolific, often controversial but unquestionably legendary Takashi Miike; and if that wasn’t enough leading man Yuma Ishigaki was in Miike’s recent Samurai epic 13 Assassins. Even with the budget constraints and 65 minute running time, Nishiumi’s outing is noticeably head and shoulders above any of Chiba’s works from the opening frames. Yes it is still rough around the edges in some areas and won’t score high in the originality department but it delivers a solid, no nonsense chanbara romp with a palpable earnestness for its brief duration.
As it is Nishiumi does try to cram a lot into Samurai Warrior thus creating a rushed piece which would have benefited from more time to allow the character to develop more and grow on the viewer at the same time. Jojima’s presence as the nominal antagonist is fleeting for the most part with his motives for wanting to dominate the young hoodlums sorely underwritten. Also there is a touch of romance in the air for Ryu in the form of fragrant farm girl from another village, Oman (Sorami Iguchi), whom he discovers when tends to her after she is bitten by a snake. A spark clearly ignites between the two but Oman can’t abide Little Devils and tells Ryu “No antics, no smooching”. Torn between this ultimatum and the continuing pressure from his mother to grow up and start farming Ryu starts to waver a little until Jojima starts playing his tricks, which include riling up the rival hoodlums and tuning Ryu’s friends against him.
Naturally this all concludes with a big old punch up which is tightly choreographed and niftily shot although the final battle with Jojima suffers from some needlessly frantic editing and distracting camera angles. Some viewers may find the lack of blood showers and severed limbs - a staple of the chanbara genre - a disappointment but really, within the confines of the film’s no fuss approach, this would have been little more than tacky overkill and arguably would have cheapened the overall effect of the film and its simple charm.
Benefiting from a cast of experienced actors automatically gives Nishiumi’s film a much needed credible edge on the performance front that Chiba’s work is sorely missing. The script is fairly pedestrian but the cast at least do their best to make it work - even if they do tend to fall into the easy trap of shouting their lines as if to reassert their apparent manliness as wannabe warriors - and create a bunch of characters that the audience can at least believe in, even if they can’t necessarily find an obvious attachment to them, again a setback due to the film’s short length.
Combining traditional Samurai swordplay with light humour and a sprinkling of romance in a tale of brotherhood, loyalty and pride, Samurai Warrior is an assured debut for young director Nishiumi and a positive omen for his potential as a name to watch in the future. Might be underwhelming for some due to the short running time and over crammed story but for a low budget outing, there are far less deserving ways to spend an hour of your time.
Man In Black