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Samurai Spy More at IMDbPro »Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (original title)

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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Cool, stylized 60's fare. Shallow action fans should give it a pass, though.

Author: JetJagMan from Vancouver, Canada
4 June 2006

If you're lucky enough to get a hold of the Criterion DVD, or perhaps another version with some accurate explanatory material, you will have the benefit of the brief explanatory comments in a recent taping made by the director, Masahiro Shinoda.

He felt that the era of the swashbuckling, self-serious samurai films, such as those of Kurosawa, had come to an end. He wanted to go into a new direction for samurai cinema, that of film noir. This is a political spy tale set in the early 17th century.

The fighting is very stylized, and really just serves as a physical representation of the intrigue, rather than drawing attention to itself. Kurosawa got into the game when the swordplay was rather choreographed, and made things much more realistic, with people stumbling around in the mud, tripping and slipping as they took wild swipes with their swords. Again, Shinoda wanted to go against the grain.

There are cool villains, especially Takatani, completely covered in white, including his hooded head, and he has a soft, menacing voice, too.

The hero, Sasuke, is troubled by war, and waxes philosophical on more than one occasion about the whole business of war and spying.

The music is cool with a jazzy capricious flute, very 60's cool. Shinoda talks a bit about that as well in the interview.

I did not understand the apparently new character in the very last shot, so if someone can shed some light on it, please send me a private message on here.

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12 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

One of the best of it's time.

Author: somers001 from United States
2 June 2007

This movie is vary unlike most reviews you'd read on here on IMDb. It is a classic in it's self. Most reviews would tell you this movie is ridiculous, silly, cheesy, corny and has a stupid ending. NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE TRUE!!! The way the movie is laid out and filmed is worth the watching in itself. There's a lot of twists and turns so if your into that sort of thing this one is perfect for you (I am thats why I like this movie so much , but I just hope your good at reading subtitles because if you can't, this one will be REALLY hard to follow.) The acting is pretty good, not excellent but decent. The storyline is genius if you can follow it through till the end and get the meaning of the whole thing. There isn't that much sword fighting in this movie, but more ninja type fighting (shurikan, darts, ball & sickle type thing.) The soundtrack and cinematography compliment the twisting storyline excellently as well. Often, during some events we'll hear sort of a sobbing violin riff that is a nice compliment to the event being portrayed, a thing that is exclusive to this film at the time it was released. Character development for the main character isn't vary strong but we still bond with him, and by the end of the film I found myself cheering him on even though I don't have much background on him as a person. The villain is a cool ninja clad in all white (the guy on the cover of the criterion DVD) while the rest of the villains are some that one would never expect, something that makes this film great, is you never know who is who until the final moments of this film. With this being said, if your a fan of ninja films this is an essential! If your a fan of mind bobbling story lines with twists and turns and mysterious characters, this is an essential. If your a samurai fan, I would At least rent it, if not buy it. So thats about it, great film, 10/10, Masterpiece in its own regard, definitely recommend it!

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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

A convoluted tale of espionage that leaves a lot to be desired.

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
27 July 2008

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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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

"You're a strange person, Sarutobi Sasuke"

Author: sc8031 from United States
9 July 2008

Samurai Spy, despite the generic title, is a solid piece of ninja/samurai espionage and suspense. The plot changes at a brisk pace, there are no slow moments, and the tale is accompanied by inventive music and gorgeous scenery. The story revolves around Sasuke Sarutobi, an agent for the prominent Sanada clan, one which has not publicly allied with either one of the feuding Toyotomi or Tokugawa families during early 17th century Japan. Through his friendship with a day-dreaming (and careless) fellow agent, he becomes linked to a dangerous conspiracy involving the feuding espionage directors of both feuding families.

I was initially going to downgrade the movie based on some clumsy fighting scenes, but some of the stylized action later in the film makes up for it. My main concern was the ridiculously slow and monotonous movements of the protagonist, Sarutobi Sasuke! So many people are killed by the same "daijodan", overhead sword strike -- and in slow motion! Ha, it's not quite up to par with other films from this period, i.e. Sword of the Beast, Sword of Doom, Sanjuro, Samurai Assassin, Samurai Rebellion, etc.

But don't be mistaken. It makes up for the lack of explosive early action with great espionage scenes, fantastic long-range cinematography and zooms, some serious tension in the final few battles, and -- as I mentioned before -- some good stylized ninja action. And there is a decent amount of action, too. It isn't necessarily dull or unbelievable.

The real meat of this piece comes from the plot twists, character development and social/political commentary. As the summary on the back of the Criterion box says, "no one is who they seem to be". The variety of characters, similarity of syllables among the names and historical setting might make this confusing for some folks who aren't "Otaku" (Japan-o-philes) but this is part of the immersion. As another user mentioned, the viewer is hanging onto the plot twists by a hair, much like the protagonist. But I was never TOO confused and found the plot to be ultimately rewarding. Trust me, it's nowhere near as complicated as Kinji Fukasaku's "Shogun's Samurai" (Yagyu Clan Conspiracy). That one requires some aspirin.

The story also has some hefty commentary on (or parallels to) the roles of espionage agents during the Cold War and their blatant disregard for human life in the constant quest for political self-profit. The ninjas here are generally depicted as stoic agents, emotionless tools of their superiors' quest for power. Their presence and deaths do leave some kind of poignant statement in being presented this way (or maybe it's just me?). Director Masahiro Shinoda says something related on the DVD interview: there's something poignant and more life-like to seeing a person die in battle. As though the person who lives, splattered by the other's blood, is actually somehow the loser.

Interesting stuff, with deeper thoughts than you might expect behind a political/ninja facade.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (1965)

Author: SnakesOnAnAfricanPlain from United Kingdom
22 January 2012

Samurai Soy was made during the cold war and reflects both the paranoia and uncertainty of the time. It's a tale of spies being caught between sides. Having the appearance of being on one side, whilst fighting for the other, causes a lot of conflict and grief for the warriors. Perhaps the audience was supposed to be as confused as the spies, but it doesn't help so much when telling a story. Unlike the majority of samurai films, we get to see some awesome stealthy ninja action and throwing star carnage. The immense leaps and jumping made for a wealth of excitement. There were also some fantastic long shots which just aren't used for action sequences these days.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Overplotted mess

Author: mevmijaumau from Croatia
7 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Masahiro Shinoda's Samurai Spy is a samurai-ninja-spy film based on the novel by Koji Nakada, with folkloric figure Sasuke Sarutobi as a protagonist (who was fictional but the film still takes place during a certain time in recorded history, precisely after the battle of Tekigahara), and is also supposedly a Cold War parallel. So wrap your head around all that.

The plot to this film is way, way too convoluted and overcooked. There are too many characters and locations, most of which are only mentioned and serve no purpose whatsoever. Even though the dialogue is repetitive, it still demands constant attention, but unfortunately it builds up to a disappointing final battle resolved by another folkloric character, Kirigakure Saizoo, who serves as a shoehorned deus ex machina. The romantic subplot is completely pointless and the main character isn't all that interesting either.

There are three positive sides to the film however; the fights, the music and the visuals. The fight scenes are unusually gritty and bloody, and not too far-fetched despite people leaping 3 m into the air. The music by Tôru Takemitsu is fantastic, one of his most lighthearted scores I've heard to boot, however it's only played at the start and the ending. The cinematography is very impressive, especially the scenes taking place in the nature. There are some beautiful panoramic shots.

But all in all, Samurai Spy is too tiresome and convoluted for me to fully enjoy.


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Noir meets samurai

Author: colaya
4 May 2014

It has it all really... Crime, the theme of violence, an ambiguous but honest protagonist that borders cynicism (and somehow victim of circumstance), a complex plot with crosses and double-crosses, well-defined characters with sharp motives that are unclear to the viewer, moral ambiguity, expressionist low-key lighting, unbalanced frames, disruptive shots, and even an 'urban' feel (though in old Japan), voice-over and a femme fatale! Add ninja action and a political comment on cold war and its meaningless dehumanizing nature, and you get a smart, entertaining, beautiful, thought-provoking film.

Shinoda masters the visual medium to create something new, different. The viewer experiences the insecurity and anguish that good noir delivers (I guess that other reviewers could not manage this). And still there are sword-armed samurai in it!

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Well done but probably rather difficult for Western audiences--and also a bit talky.

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
15 September 2013

Because I am a retired history teacher and lover of Japanese films, the plot to "Samurai Spy" is something I can understand--though it wasn't easy. However, most folks who are not Japanese will really struggle understanding the context--even with the tiny prologue to explain this. To make things a bit easier to understand, I'll summarize the context where the film begins: Before the Tokugawa Era, Japan was fragmented into many different kingdoms run by many different clans. In the late 1500s, several leaders of the Tokugawa clan schemed to gain power by forging alliances and fighting battles against the various other clans in Japan. Eventually, Ieyasu defeated the final holdout clans in 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara and he became the first Shogun--the de facto leader of Japan (despite there still being an Emperor). However, a few years later, the Sanada clan tried, in a last gasp effort, to defy the power of the Tokugawa clan and was crushed in a final epic battle. Just following this battle is when this film begins.

Sasuke and Noriji both meet and are soon set upon by agents of the Tokugawa who try to kill Noriji. You assume Sasuke is working with the Sanada clan because he helps Noriji--though who is working with whom is difficult to determine--especially since Noriji is a man who will work for whoever pays him most. A bit later, Noriji is killed--presumably by the guy in white (whose headdress looks a bit like bunny ears). And, for the rest of the film, one guy after another tries to kill Sasuke--and folks around him start dropping like flies. Who is working for whom and what is all this about? See the film and find out for yourself.

I'll be honest. This was a very well made film and the action sequences, when they occurred, were very nicely done. However, the film is also VERY, VERY talky. Not a bad film but one that isn't as memorable as many of the other films I've seen about this time period.

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17 out of 59 people found the following review useful:


Author: counterrevolutionary from Spokane, WA
30 October 2005

Muddled and extremely silly samurai film marred by artsy flourishes, goofy ninja outfits, martial-arts fantasy nonsense, and a stupid ending.

On the plus side, Shinoda has a good eye for composition, the production values are quite good, and it's got a meaty role for Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo from SEVEN SAMURAI).

The most potentially interesting thing about the film is its treatment of the persecution of Christians in Tokugawa Japan. Unfortunately, it treats this aspect with the same superficiality that it treats the conflict between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Toyotomi clan (and the film starts with a basic historical error: the Toyotomi clan did not lose at Sekigahara; they didn't even fight there, although the battle did result in the end of Toyotomi hegemony over Japan).

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