This 1979 Rankin/Bass production was most likely made in an attempt to cash in on the popular Shogun tv miniseries. Very loosely based on the true event in 1854. Although a Japanese co-production and filmed in Japan, it is a pretty slapdash affair, marked by a lazy script, poor acting, and typical Americanized stereotypes.
On the eve of Commodore Perry's arrival in Japan to sign a treaty that will open Japan to the West, a precious sword, intended as a gift to the President, is stolen by Lord Yamato, a shogunate lord who is opposed to the treaty. Captain Hawk and two US sailors follow Prince Ido across the Japanese countryside in a attempt to steal the sword back so the treaty can be finalized.
As a fan of Japanese culture and cinema, my expectations were high, but here is a film that wastes the god of Japanese acting Toshiro Mifune ( High and Low, Red Beard, Sword of Doom) as well as Tetsuro Tamba (Kwaidan, You Only Live Twice, Happiness of the Katakuris). But perhaps most unforgivable is its poor use of Sonny Chiba (The Streetfighter series) as Prince Ido. Since it is an American production, our lead hero role is Captain Hawk (Frank Converse), played with the typical superior American smugness, but this conceit is so large, they have him rescuing Sonny Chiba. I mean, that has to be one of the silliest things I've ever seen, like one of the Golden Girls rescuing Bruce Lee.
Likewise, character actor Mako also shows up as a fisherman who knows English (based on a true account) and who helps out the foreigners. It isn't much of a shining role, but then again, no one fares very well. James Earl Jones, quite oddly, shows up in a brief bit as a captured fisherman and casually chews up the scenery. And in a terribly bizarre bit of casting, Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser shows up as a half breed samurai girl. It is a testament to the movies weakness that they have one of the 70's biggest soft core porn stars and they make her devoid of any sensuality whatsoever. And then there is has-been Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel, The Last Dinosaur, The Alamo) as Perry. This was his last film, and although he is said to have died from throat cancer, I wouldn't be surprised if overacting was the actual cause of death. He was never a pretty face, but looking at him in the film, one imagines they paid him with crates of whiskey.
The film was directed by Tom Kotani, an American moniker for Tsugunobu Kotani, who didn't have much of a resume anyway, unless you count the Pink Ladies movie and (one of my childhood favorites) The Last Dinosaur. It really will fail to impress most viewers. As a historical film it is a complete washout. And, despite some brief gratuitous nudity and violence, it cannot even mange to be a decent exploitation film. It is all just so laughable, the pinnacle of which being Captain Hawk's duel for the bushido blade in which Hawk uses a clunky cavalry sword and the English rigid style of fighting against a deadly samurai. As a follower and hopeful practitioner of kendo, I nearly put my bokken (training sword) through the screen.
The DVD: Wellspring.
Picture: Full-screen. What are they crazy over at Wellspring? Honestly, who is going to pay over $20 for a cropped full-screen tape based transfer of such a film? If it were from a cheap budget company and had a retail below $10 (at your local Walmart in the $5 bin) I wouldn't be surprised. But $24.99 for weak contrast, worn, good vhs quality, barebones transfer? You have to be kidding.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0, English. Unimpressive but serviceable mix. Unfortunatley both Mifune and Chiba have terrible dubbers. I realize they didn't have the strongest English (you can tell by their lip movements they were speaking English), but the dubber they chose uses a cliched accent that nearly drove me batty.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Filmographies
Conclusion: Even if you are a fan of this less than impressive and definitely not factual film, the transfer is a poor one, certainly not deserving of an average retail price.