The Japanese ambassador is traveling through the Wild West by train, when gangsters hold up the train, to rob a gold shipment. They also carry an ancient Japanese sword the ambassador was carrying as a present for the US president. The ambassador's bodyguard (Toshiro Mifune) will go after them, with the aid of one of the gang's leaders betrayed by his pals...Written by
As far as Western- / Samurai-Crossovers go, this is pure perfection
People are simply suckers for crossovers: be it Superman and Spiderman slugging it out in the comic books, Hercules fighting Aztecs in the Italian muscle n' sandal flicks or Dracula dueling Jessie James. In "Red Sun" the dream for many a kid came true: samurais going head to head with cowboys and Indians.
The concept of mixing Eastern culture and (especially) martial arts with the archaic Wild West has been often tried, sometimes with success but more often with complete failure (Jackie Chan escapades, numerous Spaghetti-Western-Kung-Fu-crossovers and the "Kung Fu" TV-series, which was a technical and aesthetic failure, even though the audience loved it). This had little to do with the incompatibility between east and west but rather lacking directors who could handle both genres with equal dignity.
The story is rather plain and simple: Bronson and Delon plan to rob a train that happens to carry the imperial Japanese ambassador. The heist goes fine but fiery-eyed Delon (remember, he is French and left-handed) betrays his partner, leaving him at the mercy of the Japanese entourage – but not before stealing a Samurai sword that was meant as a present for the US-president. The ambassador makes Bronson a deal he cannot refuse: bring back the sword within a week or loose your head. To insure that Bronson is doing his job, the disgraced sword-keeper (Mifume) is sent along, likewise obliged to commit 'hara-kiri' when the seven day span is over. Both men form an uneasy camaraderie, one driven by obligation, the other from thirst for revenge and each perceiving the others culture as plain alien.
It would be very hard to duplicate this 'innocent' clash of the cultures-scenario today: too many similarities, too many cross-cultural interchanges have occurred. Today a kid from Japan would be no more alien to the image of an American cowboy than your average businessman would be to the concept of eating raw fish with rice, namely sushi, which they eat anyway during lunch-break. Back in the early 70's, those images tended to be way more exotic to the average-Joe. Back then we could believe Mifumes wide-eyed look of disbelieve at 'culture' of the Wild West as well as Bronsons inability to comprehend his 'partners' culture. Needless to say, this leads to many-a comic relief and, once the colts and katanas are pulled, plenty of action.
Mifune and Bronson are simply veterans at what they do (so is Ursulla Andress, by the way, namely dressing, undressing and throwing tantrums). They really don't need much dialogue to bring their sentiments and thoughts across – each confused and by degree disgusted by the others culture and behaviour. No matter how you look at it, the chemistry works and is believable. Throw in Alain Delon doing what Delon can do best – namely look chiseled like a roman statue and throw glares that could cut through ice – you've got the perfect cocktail of experienced acting and charisma.
Terence Young made this happen by applying the same he did to the first two James Bond films: make a serious movie but don't take the movie too serious. The result was a comic-book Western that owed more to the Euro-Western of the 60's (perhaps even a bit more to the German Schnitzel-, rather than the Italo-Spaghetti Westerns) than it did to John Wayne or "Bonanza".
Granted, this is not a cinematographic masterpiece, this isn't Sergio Leone nor is it Eastwoods "The Unforgiven". This would be comparing "Dr. No" to the ultra-realistic violence of "Casino Royal". Neither films need to be taken serious but should rather be enjoyed. This isn't "Dance with the Wolves"; this is about a bandit and a samurai on a mission to retrieve the emperors sword, on the way slugging it out with bandits and Indians. Throw in the (as usually) excellent soundtrack by Maurice Jarre and what you get is the perfect blend between Euro-Western and Samurai Adventure. 8/10
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