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Samurai Fiction

Media Blasters // Unrated // September 30, 2003
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 23, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Samurai Fiction is a bit hard to describe. It is a comedic nod to classic samurai films. It keeps a traditional look, characters, and pacing of a chambara/samurai film but has a comedic lean and a glaringly modern soundtrack. I guess the most accurate way to describe it would be a modern, self conscious, referential, samurai comedy. But, it isn't a spoof, the comedy is just comedy and it doesn't really poke fun at anything specific to samurai films.

A precious ceremonial sword that is intended as a gift for the shogun is stolen by a deadly samurai named Kazamatsuri. Heishiro, the brash young son of the clan leader, decides to retrieve the sword and defend their honor. Meanwhile his father has commissioned the crafting of a duplicate and assigned two ninjas to follow and keep an eye on his son. His first encounter with Kazamatsuri leaves Heishiro seriously wounded and he only survives thanks to the intervention of Hanbei, a sword master who lives nearby. While convalescing, Heishiro gets nervous nose bleeds over Hanbei's attractive, sweet daughter, and Kazamatsuri slowly becomes obsessed with fighting Hanbei, the man who bravely bested him.

I find myself strangely divided by Samurai Fiction. As a serious fan of samurai cinema, from the astute works of Kurosawa to the basic arterial spray action of Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Fiction didnt really win me over. It has the more measured pace and wide framing of a classic samurai film- that I love. The film has some absolutely gorgeous visuals, and first time feature director Hiroyuki Nakano, who worked in music videos like Dee Lites "Groove is in the Heart", has a great eye. Tomoyasu Hotei, who plays Kazamatsuri, has a dangerous calm, a low, thick voice, and a cranium that belongs on Easter Island. It's almost a shame that he is such an engaging villain, because it is really his peripheral scenes that could be removed to make a tighter picture.

I guess it is the comedy that is lost on me. While I found some moments chuckle worthy, like the elder ninjas falling from the ceiling when he is called, the films jokes are pretty far and few between and often are just manic eruptions. For instance, the young actor playing Heishiro will comically mug and scream a serious line, overemphasizing it, like some bout of clownish Tourettes Syndrome. Also, the action is pretty unimpressive, and it is hard to tell based on the films tone if that was intentional or not.

Well, it was interesting, and, despite feeling it is a tad overlong, I was entertained. I just don't believe it strikes an even balance. It gets the traditional look and feel right, yet the more modern touches of comedy and the action, for me anyway, fell very flat. Maybe I'm just a prude when it comes to my samurai cinema, but I do know it it had manged to get a few more laughs out of me or wowed me with its action, I wouldnt be as wishy-washy.

The DVD: Media Blasters

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. This film has some really great black and white photography with some striking flashes of color. For instance, when someone is struck, felled by a sword blow, the shot will be filtered in red. I'm pretty sure the film was shot in color and then mastered black and white, so it isnt true black and white but converted black and white. . You can tell that the film is part of the digitized age. This transfer is very good, crisp, clean. The contrast is nice and deep. The transfer is very smooth, no technical quibbles, really. Occasionally the sharpness could use a little push, but overall the definition is quite good.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround Japanese with optional English subtitles. Sound is quite good, nice mix with adequate bass, good fx, and bright dialogue. The soundtrack gets the most impressive use in the mix. And, I have to say, it was one of the things that I just didn't like. The soundtrack is, as I said, very modern, domintated by very filtered guitar strummings of neo-rock and blues licks, along with lots of synthesizer instruments. Yeah, I know the intent was to balanece these old school visuals with a new wave music backdrop. I just thought the music sucked.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Versus, Pistol Opera, Bounce Ko Gals, The Keitya Amemiya Collection--- Making of Samurai Fiction featurette (18:21). Good feature, each member of the cast and the director are interviewed, on set, and there is plenty of behind the scenes stuff. It is a very promo oriented doc, ending with clips from the films music video (the actor who plays Kazamatsuri is a Japanese rock star and also scored the film) and an ad to buy the films photo book.

Conclusion: Althugh I'm a little lukewarm on it, if you are a fan of Japanese cinema, both modern and new, I'd say the film is worth checking out. The DVD is a very decent presentation. Definitely offers a nice alternative to the $40 Japanese import.

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