The legendary samurai Sasuke Sarutobi tracks the spy Nojiri, while a mysterious figure named Sakon leads a band of men on their own quest for the wily Nojiri. Soon no one knows just who is ... See full summary »
The legendary samurai Sasuke Sarutobi tracks the spy Nojiri, while a mysterious figure named Sakon leads a band of men on their own quest for the wily Nojiri. Soon no one knows just who is who and what side anyone is on. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A convoluted tale of espionage that leaves a lot to be desired.
Maybe because the bar in 1960's samurai cinema was set in unprecedented highs after the works of Masaki Kobayashi, Kihachi Okamoto and Hideo Gosha among others, maybe because the title is slightly misleading and this is not an out and out chambara, or maybe because it's just not such a good film, Samurai Spy left me with a bitter aftertaste.
Set in 16th century Japan, 14 years after the defining battle of Sekigahara where the Tokugawas solidied their power over the Toyotomis (and the country was about to enter a 400 year period of Tokugawa rule), Samurai Spy attempts to tell a labyrinthine story of espionage and double-crossing. In its centre of political intrigue are two rival spy networks working for the two factions, Tokugawas and Toyotomis. The convoluted plot should come as no surprise to chambara aficionados; it is after all a staple in a good number of genre films. However whereas another very convoluted film like Samurai Assassin at least has a central figure one can relate to (likeable or not, doesn't matter) and thus follow the maze-like plot through his plights and triumphs, Samurai Spy has little concern with character development. Sasuki is a pretty bland character to spend so much time in his company. It's no surprise then that the screen is on fire whenever Tetsuro Tamba appears. As the white-clad rival ninja leader, Tamba treads the ground between baddie, hero and just-another-pawn with charm and conviction. Plus he's badass as hell.
Masahiro Shinoda is one of Japan's great directors and although the story let me down, the movie is very well shot and lit. Solid DP work helped by Criterion's pristine print. His frenzied tracking shots following ninjas are a nice touch as are the several slow-motion shots that are pivotal in many of the action scenes. Speaking of action, this is more of a ninja film than a samurai one. Not that swordfights are completely absent, but they are interspersed with shurikens, flying daggers and other ninja tricks. Fans of 80's cheese looking for Sho Koshugi's forefather might wanna look elsewhere though. This is not played for laughs.
Samurai Spy could be a lot better. It's not without its merits but as it is, I'd recommend it to completists only and chambara fans that would like a different take on their katana action. I hope you like it more than me.
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