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Kill! is an economically titled film that provides some great
characters, a strong story, lots of well shot fights and some clever
humour. I have to confess that most of the samurai films I've seen have
put me to sleep - Kurosawa's work or the Zatoichi films being a happy
exception. KILL! never once had me in danger of nodding off, keeping me
entertained from start to finish.
I was reminded of Kurosawa's SANJURO quite a bit, and read afterwards that both films were based on the same novel. I'm not sure if there were multiple stories within that novel, or if one or both of the films are just very loosely based on it. Tatsuya Nakadai's ronin is certainly a similar character to Mifune's Sanjuro, perhaps a little more world-weary and sly, not so majestic. Nakadai is Mifune's only serious competition for the "God of Samurai Films" crown, having made a bunch over the course of his career. His performance in KILL! is the best I've seen from him.
The film is well lensed, written, directed and performed. The pacing rarely if ever lags, and the story focuses on the characters rather than getting bogged down in trying to accurately describe historical detail or tedious political intrigues. Action is exciting and the comedy is subtle, smart and dark... all making for a pleasing 114 minutes of cinema :) Recommended!
Nothing prepared me for the laughter and all-around entertainment offered by this film. The writer, director and actors manage to have fun with icons of Japanese society (e.g., a card shark priest, an honest bureaucrat who has never visited a brothel, a noble peasant, etc.,) while maintaining a good pace with the swordplay and forward movement of the story line. Nakadai is brilliant as the "been there, done that" samurai, who reveals much of the story's insanity to us through whispered comments and observations. Viewers might need a scorecard to keep track of all the double-crossing and back-firing that takes places, but Kiru is tremendous fun from beginning to end. And it's the only movie I've seen with the ugliest chicken in the world serving as a leitmotiv.
Both the strength and the major weakness of Kiru! is that it refuses to
take itself too serious. Although there are some notable moments where
Okamoto goes for the dramatic angle (the squad leader whose wife works
in the brothel facing off with Tatsuya Nakadai's character for one) and
does it well, he keeps sabotaging his own movie. In that aspect, Kiru
is definitely not a formal jidai-geki but more of a light-hearted
samurai action film.
Kihachi Okamoto might not be well known outside chambara circles, but he's one of the best in the genre and definitely at the top of his game directing action. Fresh from the devastating Sword of Doom (his magnum opus and one of Japanese cinema's finest moments), he brings a fresh, wild approach to his action. Less stylized and formal but more energetic. In terms of samurai cinema, the movie opens in a rundown little village and with the dust and winds blowing the whole setup is eerily reminiscent of Yojimbo setting. The plot is a crossover of sorts between Kurosawa's Sanjuro movies and the themes Eiichi Kudo explored in his Samurai Revolution trilogy (samurais ambushing and assassinating a daimyo for the honour of their clan etc). It may seem a bit convoluted and off-putting to the uninitiated, but that's typical in films of this kind.
With regards to the comedy angle, while Kiru is a light-hearted fare, it's definitely not laugh-out-loud funny. A lot is lost in the translation I guess, but sometimes the comedic timing of Tatsuya Nakadai as the cunning, sly yakuza (a welcome change from the tortured soul characters he played in the 60's) and Etsushi Takahashi as the overzealous farmer with samurai ambitions shine through.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Take a piece of Akira Kurosawa, blend in a big portion of Sergio Leone,
then add a little of Mel Brooks on Xanax and you'll have an idea of one
of the oddest and most amusing examples of chanbara satire. The
"sword-fighting movies" from Japan nearly collapsed under the weight of
clichés, just as American "gun-fighting" westerns nearly bit the dust
in the U.S. Kihachi Okamoto piles on the clichés in this tale taken
from the same source material as Sanjuro. While elements of the plot
are described, it's not the plot that's too important, but what Okamoto
does with it. You might have a hard time afterwards watching some of
those popular Italian westerns with a straight face (or even some of
Kurosawa's eastern westerns).
Two ragged men, one a former samurai, Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai), who is disillusioned and has become a wandering yakuza, and the other, Hanji (Etsushi Takahashi), a farmer who wants to become a samurai, meet by chance in a dusty, decaying village. The two suddenly find themselves in the midst of corruption, betrayal and assassination. They wind up fighting rival gangs and, sometimes, each other. Along the way we encounter the loving clichés of samurai flicks as well as the loving clichés from Italian westerns...all that running back and forth, noble love, beatings, the really evil villain...as well as pratfalls, a monk who seems to be channeling William Hickey, a flying finger that lands on the ground right in front of the camera and probably the scrawniest chicken ever to have a major role in the movies.
The year is 1833 when Japan's rigid class system was decaying. Tatsuya Nakadai as Genta is marvelous as the quizzical and disillusioned ex-samurai who long ago had enough of the posturing and false honor of his class. He has no intention of being a hero, yet he finds himself against his better judgment being drawn into a clan battle between corruption on one side and naivety on the other. He also is a realist. "Kill or be killed," he says at one point, "either would leave an unpleasant aftertaste." Almost as good is Etsushi Takahashi as Hanji. He may only be a farmer, but Hanji is tired of that back-breaking work. He sold his land and bought a samurai's outfit with the two swords. If he can become a samurai, he knows honor will be close behind. Hanji is energetic and impressed with titles. When the two meet, they make an odd-couple team, even if at a various times Hanji is determined to stick a sword through Genta's chest.
Two-thirds of the way through the movie, however, Okamoto lets the clichés regain their rightful power. The laughs are few and far between as battles are fought between muskets and swords (the swords lose), a good man dies and a fight to the death takes place between Genta and an evil usurper. We're left with the carnage of dead samurai, caused by betrayal and suspicion..and with Genta's comment to Hanji, "Now do you understand what samurai are like?"
Wait, there's more. This is a satire, after all. Our last view is of the two men, one a realist and the other now also a realist, leaving the village. They're followed by the admiring young women of the town's one pleasure house, all determined to journey with them. That leaves the scrawny chicken, strutting around and pecking in the dust, unimpressed with all that has just occurred.
This is an example of a near perfect film. It most certainly is a comedy and the blend of serious story and personal conflict makes the light-hearted moments hilarious and touching. I have never seen this kind of humour so effectively portrayed on film and perhaps some of the other reviewers simply have not been fortunate to find themselves in this kind of "pickle". Sometimes events are so unbelievable, or so obviously predictable that you have to surrender yourself to fate and laugh. This movie is about the immensity of fate and how man is but a small raft on the big ocean. He can only paddle to avoid waves and laugh at his fortune as he makes his way towards a distant shore, perhaps never reaching it. It is pure beauty.
With all its dark humor and cynical attitude towards samurai code of
honor, Kill! comes as a truly unformulaic and genre-bending period
drama. Written and directed by the famous Kihachi Okamoto, the film's
loosely based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's widely read short story Peaceful
Days (also the basis for Kurosawa's Sanjuro). Kill! (or Kiru in
Japanese) combines a well-crafted, complex plot with audaciously
choreographed fight scenes, some visually-stunning, long shots of
Japanese landscapes, with a bunch of witty - and often farcical -
The picture presents a story about two luckless, hungry would-be warriors, who find themselves in the middle of a ferocious battle between the opposing sides of a dangerous yakuza clan. Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a former samurai, who got tired of the difficult lifestyle of a wandering ronin. He wasn't able to find any other work, and just wound up in the deserted city, where he met Hanjiro (Etsushi Takahashi), an ex-farmer who wants to become a samurai, but didn't have a chance to prove his abilities yet. As soon as the two discover that the abandoned city is a battleground for a merciless group of samurai retainers, it's simply too late, and they get dragged into the whole deadly intrigue in just a matter of minutes. It becomes clear that one side of the conflict betrayed the other, and the resolution of the struggle might come only when one of the parties kills the other. In the cutthroat game of murder and betrayal, the two main characters take differing sides, and in order to achieve success they need to kill each other at first. Though Hanjiro's first assignment as an aspiring samurai is to dispose of Genta, he hesitates for a long time, as Genta proved to be a valuable source of information regarding the precious samurai life. As the tension mounts, and both groups become more and more irritated and bloodthirsty, Hanjiro and Genta decide to team up and outsmart everyone in their way, leading on to one of the most riveting and satisfying finales in a samurai picture ever filmed.
The problem with Kill! is that it's not as well-known around the world as it really should be. Moreover, it's simply an under-watched samurai epic, even though it actually shares - and makes fun of - all the far-reaching values of many prominent Kurosawa pictures. Here the portrayal of typical samurai warriors is a most parodical one, as Kill! shows so deliberately that there are those, who behave only badly and those, who behave only honorably, and there's nothing in-between. It's a game-changer of sorts when it comes to the topic of samurai, given its highly fanciful attempt at denuding all the hidden aspects of those seemingly convoluted personas.
The cinematography is as raw-looking as it is actually picture-perfect. It brings out all that's eye-popping about the beautiful, yet blood-filled, Japanese scenery.
Kill! also references various other samurai pictures, playing with the idea of a dramatic and serious samurai film, giving itself an utterly lighthearted tone. Kihachi Okamoto created a little, under-appreciated gem that's not only engaging, but also truly smart and concise.
Seven young samurai kill a corrupt local magistrate on the orders of
their clan's chamberlain, Ayuzawa, believing that doing their duty for
the honor of their clan. But when they discover that Ayuzawa was only
using them, and that now he's set on cleaning house, their only hope my
lie with enigmatic drifter Genta and strong bodied, thick headed
ex-farmer Tabata. Assuming they don't get killed first. Thus begins
Kihachi Okamoto's Kill! Based on the same novel as Kurosawa's Sanjuro,
Kill! weaves a tale filled with twists, betrayals, and death that is
steeped in the samurai ethos of honor and duty. But this is no brooding
drama or tragedy; it's a slick action comedy.
The central story is a compelling one, pitting the courage and youthful idealism of the seven against the callous deceptions of Ayuzawa. These are men who despite their inexperience and naiveté are committed to their cause and fully prepared to die for it if need be. But although they may not be fools or cowards, neither are they hardened warriors, accustomed to a life on the run. When things are down, they fight, they get scared, they make mistakes, but they manage to pull it together. And although I couldn't keep their names strait, each of them have been developed with their own personalities and character traits.
The most interesting character by far though is Genta He's an outsider, a vagrant. He's got no connection to the seven, no reason to get involved. Yet from the moment he meets them commits himself to their cause and repeatedly risks his life to aid them. And believe me, there is no better man to have on your side. In battle, he possesses the power of a raging storm and the grace of a dancer, easily cutting down half a dozen opponents. Even more formidable is his cunning and charisma, which allow him to pit enemies against each other and undermine them from within.
Genta remains something of an enigma for most of the film. We learn early on that he used to be a samurai, and that he had a falling out with his former master. But almost until the end we receive only oblique hints as to what lies in his past, and what motivates his actions now. It's clear however that he holds no regard for his former profession. For him, it's not the title or rank that matters, but the kind of man you are.
His sometimes ally Tabata is the main source of comic relief. His stubbornness, earnestness and all around cluelessness are worth more than a few chuckles, and remind me just a bit of the peasants from The Hidden Fortress. His early fight scenes are among the funniest parts, as he tries his hardest to strike down a foe who nonchalantly comments on his technique while dodging his clumsy blows. I also enjoyed the bit involving the chicken, but the part that evoked the most laughs would have to be the frantic brothel scene, which is not nearly as risqué as it sounds.
Kill! is not only a lot of fun and quite funny, but also surprisingly deep, sometimes poignant, and possesses a clear message about what it truly means to be honorable. It is a credit to its genre, and one hell of an action flick.
Kihachi Okamoto's Kill! is an anti-samurai film same as his Sword of
Doom. In the latter, the protagonist is a sociopathic nut instead of a
virtuous hero. In the former, the main guy is a comical figure who
nevertheless talks normally instead of using the typical scruffy
samurai talk. Kill! pokes fun of that one, and of many other tropes and
clichés found in samurai films (some of those jokes unfortunately end
up being lost in translation).
Kill! is very entertaining, but the plot is too convoluted and confusing. Take the first 15 minutes for example - new characters enter and leave the screen as they please, names are thrown and exchanged rapidly, sides are taken and scenes fly by before you can get what's even happening. Fortunately, the storyline becomes clearer later on. I still dislike how the movie's editing is constantly so erratic, especially in its opening. Some scenes, like the party segment when Tabata meets Oyo work best when edited in such a dynamic manner, but the majority of the film's pacing is all over the place.
The shot compositions are wonderful like in many Japanese films at that time, and although many shots last too short to be admired, they are combined with the restless edits in an unique way, showing us a big, open world. Also, the music is really cool, one of the best samurai movie soundtracks ever.
As a bit of trivia, this is based on the same novel (The Peaceful Days) as Kurosawa's Sanjuro. However, Kill! seems to have more connections to Yojimbo, particularly the rundown village in the intro scene, which looks almost identical to the town in Yojimbo because of huge gusts of wind blowing dust all over the place.
Despite some of its narrative weaknesses, Kill! is a very fun and exciting movie, with great music, good sword fights and lots of exaggerated acting as a spoof of samurai film tropes.
Tatsuya Nakadai is no stranger to Samurai films, having played in Ran,
Yojimbo, and Sanjura among the almost 100 films he has done. This film
is based upon the same book as Sanjura.
Tatsuya Nakadai plays Genta, a yakuza that travels from town to tow. He meets up with Hanji (Etsushi Takahashi) a farmer who wants to be a Samurai. Reminds you of the farmer in the Magnificent Seven who wanted to be a gunfighter.
They get caught up in a local fracas that pits seven samurai against a lord taking over the town. It is a one-sided fight, to say the least.
You will find some Kurasawa in here, as well as some Clint Eastwood as "the man with no name"; along with some very funny dialog. All of this will serve to keep you glued to the action until the very end.
Before watching Kiru "Kill!" see SEven SAmurai, Hidden Fortress, Sanjuro, Yojimbo and the awesome SWORD OF DOOM then you will catch all of the inside jokes and truly appreciate this masterful parody. The humor in this movie is conveyed elegantly. For example the director of "Kiru," Okamoto, who also directed Sword of Doom, included a stone Buddha atop of the hill overlooking the desolate town setting of the movie in reference to "Daibosatsu Toge" which means "Great Buddha Pass" (the Japanese title for Sword of Doom). Okay that wasn't the best example, but can you imagine henchmen screaming EXTRA loud when they are butchered? Or how about a grimy farmer turning away a cute girl he calls a "powdered monster!" Amidst the exaggerated dust storms, references to the value of rice, mountain treks and the trouble 7 "children" or samurai cause when planning a conspiracy is a trio of heroes: a farmer who yearns to be a samurai, the last henchmen of an annihilated gang, and a vagabond (rather than a dashing ronin) played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Yes, there are staring duels, flying daggers, great fight scenes with wooden swords but lastly a showdown that is NOT in the middle of a ghost town or rolling field but in a tiny room. This film is for the fans!!!
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