Set in the feudal era where Japan is about to sign a treaty with America to open up trade with western nations, The Bushido Blade (known alternately as The Bloody Bushido Blade), benefits from a first rate cast of cult movie actors and a fine idea but ultimately doesn't add up to the classic it should have been.
In the beginning of the film we find out that the Emperor of Japan wants to give the President of the United States a traditional Japanese Bushido Blade as a symbol of their newfound friendship. The Americans send over Commodore Matthew Perry (Richard Boone) to sign the treaty and accept the gift on the President's behalf. Unfortunately, a gang of traditionalist Japanese warriors lead by Lord Yamamoto (Tetsuro Tamba) strongly oppose opening the countries doors to western influence and they steal the sword before it can make its way stateside.
This act of defiance ends up stalling the diplomatic process until the sword can be recovered, but while the Americans and the Japanese are trying to sort things out, the Russians are slowly but surely moving in. Prince Ido (Sonny Chiba) gets a hold of the sword and heads across the mainland with it, and the Americans send Captain Lawrence Hawk (Frank Converse) and a few of his men in hot pursuit to get the sword back and set things right.
With supporting roles from James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader who, despite top billing on the packaging only appears in the film for about three minutes), Laura Gemser (Italian sexploitation queen and star of the Black Emanuelle films), and Mako (of An Eye For An Eye), you'd think that, when combined with performers who have more prominent roles, this one would be a winner. Nope. It's quite dull, in fact. Part of that might be because for some reason Koch has released a trimmed version of the film and apparently about ten minutes or so are missing from the film, but most of it is simply because the script is poor.
While Sonny Chiba and Toshiro Mifune are fantastic as always whenever they're on screen, sadly they're just not given enough to do (nor are any of the other Japanese performers like Tamba, who is usually great in everything he does). The focus of the film is on the more 'cookie cutter' American characters and while Richard Boone has been good in the past, towards the end of his career (when this film was made) he was definitely in a bit of a slump and this film is a prime example of how low he'd fallen before his death in 1981. Frank Converse, known mainly for his many television roles, is merely okay in his role – he's not terrible, but his performance isn't strong enough to carry the film when he's in the spotlight.
You'd think that the sexy Laura Gemser might make up for some of this but again, like Chiba and Mifune, she's just not given enough to do in the movie. She plays one of the more interesting supporting characters but in this (atypically clothed) part she's nothing more than a background piece. Make, who more often than not is at least entertaining in his typical maliciousness, is again left with very little to work with here.
The Bushido Blade could have been a contender had it focused on the difficulties that the Japanese had adjusting to the influx of western ideals and culture or had it focused more on the action that could have taken place under the circumstances which the film is setup with. Sadly, what we're basically left with is a meandering storyline that can't make up its mind whether or not it's a straight up Samurai/action/swordplay piece or some sort of failed statement on American/Japanese history.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume the reason that this cropped fullframe transfer looks like crap is because Wellspring, in their infinite wisdom, decided to use some sort of tape source. The colors are washed out, the image is soft and fuzzy, and the contrast levels are off. Black levels are closer to a dark grey and while there aren't any serious mpeg compression artifacts, the image is just plain ugly looking. Couple that with the fact that the fullframe transfer seriously compromises some of the shot compositions and you're left with a really poor effort in terms of the visuals on this release.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix isn't much better in terms of quality than the video presentation is. Some mild hiss is present throughout and there are a couple of scenes where the levels are a bit off, giving some ugly distortion to the mix. There are no subtitles, nor are there any closed captioning options or alternate language dubs.
Wellspring has provided really basic and incomplete filmographies for a few of the cast members – Sonny Chiba, Richard Boone, Frank Converse, Toshiro Mifune and James Earl Jones. Other than that, the disc is completely barebones.
How could a film with a decent premise and such a great cast go so horribly wrong? Koch Vision's DVD (which is pretty much the same as the earlier release from Wellspring) hardly does The Bushido Blade any favors and even the omnipotent team of Chiba and Mifune can't help this one from turning out a bore. It pains me more than you'll ever know, but I've got to say 'Skip it.'
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.