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The Japanese b/w movie "Samurai Fiction" is neither a typical martial arts
movie nor a classical "old school" samurai drama like the ones of Akira
Kurosawa. It's rather a collage of different impressions about the life of a
Japanese samurai some hundred years ago who becomes involved in a bloody
In the beginning the spectators have to get used to the strange mixture of b/w action scenes, narrations, dances, wild editing and a rock and dance music sound track. After a certain time, director Hiroyuki Nakano seems to remember what a story is and tells an interesting plot about a proud samurai struggling between revenge, fight, death and love.
During movie there are always comedy situations such as the witty dialogue between the samurai and his servant or a really beautiful striptease dance Japanese-style by stunning actress Mari Natsuki to an Asian canton pop version of Peggy Lee's hit "Sway".
If you're into Asian hardcore action movies you may be bored by this unusual movie, but if you're open-minded enough for experiments, "Samurai Fiction" is a good and entertaining example for modern Japanese underground cinema.
"Samurai Fiction": Definitely worth watching - I thought it was a little slow at first (and a little sparse and inconsistent with the humour), but it definitely got better at the end. It won't make you more of a Hotei Tomoyasu fan (boy, he looks weird - almost like a manga character... like "Jei" in Stan Sakai's "Usagi Yojimbo"), and the swordplay won't exactly blow you away, but the adaptation of the black & white (with selective colour, a la "Rumblefish") genre is excellent. Being a Kurosawa fan, I especially liked the general "feel" of the cinematography and the video transfer, as it was digitally modified to add graininess and capture that circa-1950's TOHO ambiance. Critical attention was paid to camera angles, set design, character development and mannerisms, all playing true to the Kurosawa-esque model and at the same time sparing no opportunity for the sight gag and comedic element. Yes, for the Hirosue Ryoko fans-in-denial, the female lead (Ogawa Tamaki) bears a somewhat close resemblance (slightly less boyish), but that's besides the point. The movie felt like it was part of an Ulfuls music video at times (I think it was "Guts Daze"), which was exactly what made it so good. Highly recommended.
I think Samurai Fiction is a truly amazing film for the way it balances
artsiness with more typical film styles, for the unusual combination of
traditional samurai tales with modern rock-ish music. I can't quite tell if
it is meant to be an homage to Kurosawa and the like or not, but it's
certainly serious enough, and good enough, to not be a
Normally, I don't like black and white films, but the very limited and carefully placed use of color helps this film immensely.
I saw it first with no subtitles, and was quite understandably & totally lost. But now that I have seen it again, I'm glad I bought the DVD. Now, if I can only find the soundtrack...
If only every samurai flick from Japan is this cool, then I'd be a very
happy man. But then again here lies the greatness of Samurai Fiction. It
does not conform to the common rules of period film making. In fact,
director Hiroyuki Nakano creates a genuinely fresh look at that age-old
jidaigeki genre, by doing everything in the opposite direction. His sense of
humour is slick, his presentation stylish and by the end of the movie you
can not avoid being moved by the heart of the story. It's actually cathartic
for me, a fan of samurai films and Japanese drama/comedy.
Don't be misled by the trailer though, Nakano takes on the film is far from creating a parody of the likes of Kurosawa. SF is essentially a fresh comedy which happens to be set in the Edo period, because it works so well in conveying his message to the audience.
The casting is pitch-perfect, characterization is sublime, editing is effective and smartly executed, while the direction is top-notch and funky. You would also love the art direction, cinematography and best of all the soundtrack of the film. The music pieces themselves are melody narrator of the story, as they carry you throughout the journey and mark transitions of the scenes so effectively.
I must say Samurai Fiction will be half as good without the music, so a special praise should go the the talented Tomoyasu Hotei, who himself turned in such a cool performance as the ronin Kazamatsuri. He's probably the most suave renegade on film after the great Toshiro Mifune.
The film directly opens with a promise of a sequel by directly entitling the movie Episode One: Samurai Fiction. Then we jump backward all the way to the year 1696, the Edo Period. The narrator then states that the character you see on the screen was the narrator himself, 300 years ago. The film then closes with the same narrator saying that it would take him a long time to learn the lesson of love. Enter the sequel: Episode 2002: Stereo Future. Can't wait to watch it!!!
This is a well presented movie with very interesting camera work and
In late 17th century, a samurai is wrongly accused to be stealing the clan's treasured sword, and has no choice but to kill the accuser on the spot and flee with the sword.
The son of a clan's high official pursues him with 3 friends, to the dismay of his father who sends ninjas to protect them, knowing their swordsmanship is far from being good.
This story uses the traditional Japanese principles of irremediable fate, where the characters are drawn towards actions because of the pressure of duty, sense of righteousness and pride. This contrasts with the American good-vs-bad approach to storytelling.
A lot of subtle Japanese humor with situational comedy, silliness and awkward personalities that you'll appreciate more if you learn Japanese stereotypical behaviors or understand some of their social culture.
In America there must be thousands of Westerns filling up the shelves of
many movie studios. The same is true of samurai movies in Japan. It's
a little piece of each culture. Not that it is the same story every time,
but people watch them and feel safe to know what is going to happen (a bad
guy is going to mess stuff up, there's going to be some good fights, and
good guy is going to win in the end).
I saw Samurai Fiction after watching a great deal of 'typical' Japanese samurai movies (most haven't even been released in the US) and felt that the music the (with the 'western style' instruments) was a fresh addition to a long line of movies caught up in the tradition of making samurai movies 'the way one's supposed to.' The director (a former director of MTV videos for Japanese bands) also uses younger actors and rock musicians in leading roles in an attempt to appeal to the younger generations of Japan whose tastes are quickly drifting away from the older samurai generation's.
All in all, Samurai Fiction is a fun movie that is easy to watch for those of us that would like a breath of fresh air from the samurai movie scene.
I think the title of this review sums up SAMURAI FICTION. It doesn't
approach the heart of samurai cinema (and I doubt that was among its
intentions) but it transforms the form in new and interesting ways.
Whether or not the title is a direct reference to PULP FICTION, the fact remains that SAMURAI FICTION tries to be the same hip, cool and stylish update of the classic chambara genre that Tarantino's movie was for the gangster genre. Whether or not it succeeds or that it's SF's intention for that matter is up for debate and down to personal taste I guess, but either way SF is every bit the fresh breath the stagnant genre is in desperate need of for years now.
As a big fan of both chambaras and jidai-gekis I find myself torn between my purist self that wants to dismiss SF as having only a cursory resemblance of the genre and being too cool and slick for its own good, and my escapist self that enjoys kicking back with an unashamedly entertaining movie. The truth of the matter is that chambara has always been a dynamic genre, one that evolves in cycles that begin with movies that venture outside the mold: movies like SF. YOJIMBO in the early 60's made the traditional period dramas of the 50's obsolete overnight. Ditto for Kenji Misumi's LONE WOLF AND CUB in the early 70's. Even if SF didn't have the same power to motivate change in the genre, I applaud it for trying.
SF is very open about what it is and what it's not from the credits sequence alone. Dark silhouettes practicing fencing in front of red-lit screens. I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino lifted the sequence verbatim for KILL BILL vol. 1, he has that "homage" tendency after all. It is with this heavy stylization that SF opens and our genre expectations are instantly shifted to this conscious capsule where the samurai style meets a western form.
The rest of the movie plays on this same motif. A traditionally eastern genre delivered with a very western approach. Whole sequences and all the swordfights are edited like a music video, from the tight editing to the music to the frequent use of wide angle lenses and effect shots to the actual music that is as far removed from Toru Takemitsu and his scores for Kobayashi and Shinoda as one could imagine.
SF is content to take risks but they don't always pay off. The misuse of music is enough to give Dario Argento's choice of Motorhead for the soundtrack of PHENOMENA (a horror movie) a run for his money. Techno beats, heavy metal guitars and double-bass drumming are all mixed in a hodge podge of western sounds adding to the anachronism SF aims for. It's not out of purism that I didn't like them, they just didn't feel appropriate for the mood and scene although the music video-ish editing did its best to accommodate them. However the black and white photography is solid good work, the acting is nice and the comedic timing spot on. SF balances neatly on both the serious and comic with an emphasis on the latter but it works quite well on both fronts. Add to that the good swordfighting and the fact it manages to pull off the "hip" style relatively well without feeling phony and you've got a quite good neo-chambara that deserves major points for at least trying to push the envelope of a stagnant genre in different ways.
Ever since the late 70's samurai cinema has hit a dead end and various attempts at cross-genre mixes tried to revitalize it to no avail. Maybe the halcyon days of the 60's are over and the chambara genre is a thing of the past as much as the American western, with the only option left being revisionism (which has also been done to death I guess re-revisionism is due next). Maybe it will take another YOJIMBO to pull it off its legs and usher it in a new direction. SF is not quite the genre messiah and frankly I can see fans of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie enjoying it more than Mizoguchi loyalists but it's perhaps the best entry point to the genre for modern audiences with no prior experience (especially for young people who usually gravitate to the "cool" and "hip") . That's a success in itself.
Style and Substance. That's what Samurai Fiction is about. I was
surprised at the many MTV-ish stylistic shots incorporated into the
movie, without a blatant disregard for the storyline, incorporating
very modern rock into its soundtrack.
The Inukai clan had their family sword stolen by a renegade samurai Rannosuke Kazamatsuri. Swearing to get it back, Heishiro Inukai embarks on a journey to hunt down Kazamatsuri. However, his skills are no match for a seasoned warrior who has killed many, and almost had his life ended until he is saved by a hermit Hanbei Mizoguchi.
It's a tale of 3 very diverse samurais, each carrying a theme. The peaceful Hanbei Mizoguchi, highly skilled, but abhors the use of violence. The cool and violent killer without remorse Rannosuke Kazamatsuri, who becomes obsessed with challenging Hanbei to a duel. The inept Heishiro Inukai, who defies his father's wishes to embark on a solo quest to regain their family honour. Thrown into the fray are 2 ninjas on a quest to protect Heishiro and carry out his family's orders on his behalf, and Koharu Mizoguchi, the adopted daughter of Hanbei, with whom Heishiro falls in love with.
The storyline might be pretty ordinary, on one end, the revenge theme, the other, love and peace. But I suppose these are themes that are quite universal, especially in martial arts stories.
The fights are all done very simply. Stylish, but kept uncluttered. Shot in black and white, colours are used sparingly, except for the coating of entire frames in red when someone gets killed. You don't see blood, but you see plenty of varying shots and angles of the fight sequences, done mostly with the help of a crane.
What works for me are the comedic characters like Heishiro's friends, early in the beginning, in their run up (pardon the pun) to catching Kazamatsuri. Also, the soundtrack is totally awesome, unlike the use of traditional music to spice up the fights. You might also know that Ronnosuke Kazamatsuri is played by real life rocker Tomoyasu Hotei, who also did that excellent track Battle Without Honor or Humanity, used in the Kill Bill Vol 1 movie.
It's weird to notice that this movie is actually billed as Episode 1. It's been 8 years and I'm not aware of a sequel or continuation in place. But I guess Samurai Fiction has already told the story it wants to tell, and there shouldn't be a need for a follow up.
Code 1 DVD contains the movie and a making of documentary, and a separate disc containing bloopers, cast biographies, how two scenes actually looked in colour, the trailers, and an entire 1 hour feature on the making of the Samurai Fiction, which showed that a simple movie also has its fair share of difficulties, and Mother Nature did its best to stall production.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Labelled as 'a samurai movie for the MTV generation', this
unfortunately is only half-accurate and does a great disservice to the
film. When a film is labelled as 'for the MTV generation', we think of
fast-cuts, jump-cuts, loud techno, a soundtrack designed purely to make
money, weak-plot, and something to keep grabbing our weak attention
spans every five minutes to make sure we're still interested. This film
is not one of those.
The soundtrack is a modern sounding bluesy/rock/techno affair which in many scenes is actually superbly in line with the events of the film. At times, some may find the music jarring with the period setting, but it never overwhelms you by getting in the way of the film or the story.
The story itself starts out as being fairly ordinary samurai fare, but as the film progresses so too does the story, adding many additional layers to both the protagonist and the antagonist of the piece, as well as raising some very good and thoughtful moments.
The story does not race along like a modern day adventure or action film, in fact it has the same kind of pace that you would expect from a Kurosawa piece at times, or a spaghetti western. Slow and languorous with occasional bursts of violence.
All of the main actors acquit themselves more than adequately, in both the dramatic sequences and the all-important duelling scenes.
This though, because of it's revisionist nature, is one of those films that will truly divide people. Some will consider a great piece of revisionism for the samurai legend, others won't be able to tolerate the modern sounding soundtrack. Neither are wrong, here it all comes down to what you expect or want from a samurai film. Although it worth pointing out that the classic samurai films also had 'modern' sounding scores when they were made, no samurai film has a truly 'authentic' soundtrack.
I personally found the film to be hugely enjoyable and at times moving, and I would heartily recommend it to most people that I know.
SAMURAI FICTION (4 outta 5 stars) What a terrific movie! It's described as a comedy but, while it does have a lot of humour in it, I think it holds up pretty well with any of the classic samurai stories. The movie is in black and white (with select use of colored images throughout) and I found the visual style very reminiscent of early Kurosawa. In fact, if I had been told that this was an early Kurosawa movie I would have believed it completely. Except for the soundtrack, that is! As old fashioned as the look of the movie is, it has a very modern rock soundtrack by the great Tomayasu Hotei (you know his music from "Kill Bill"). Tomayasu even co-stars in the movie.. playing Kazamatsuri, the badass samurai who steals a clan's revered ceremonial sword and triggers some strong (violent) emotions. After nearly killing a trio of young men bent on recovering the sword, Kazamatsuri becomes obsessed with fighting a peace-loving samurai master who has given up the idea of violence and killing. But maybe he will change his tune if his daughter is threatened...? Great plot, great performances... the actual swordplay may seem a little less flashy than most modern epics but its still exciting stuff, especially when backed by Tomayasu's stirring rock score! The soundtrack might be the one thing that puts people off this movie... personally I didn't find it distracting or "wrong" at all. The old-style movie directing and the "MTV Music" style melded perfectly.
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