Death Shadow (1986) Poster

(1986)

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7/10
Highly stylized and campy excursion into the samurai underworld
ChungMo1 December 2006
Director Gosha creates a strange world of the criminal underground during samurai times. Partially filmed on obvious sets with very gaudy lighting, this film bears a resemblance to some Shaw Brother films from Hong Kong. The acting is frequently very theatrical and it all points to an intentional effort to be over the top.

The film starts with three criminals sentenced to death but only seemingly executed. They are given the chance to become the shogun's "Shadow Police" or actually get executed. Of course they join the force and immediately have their vocal chords cut so they can't tell anyone who they work for. Well that's an interesting set-up, but suddenly the film jumps forward twenty years and we see the three men in the middle of a raid on an underworld boss' lair to find out who has a forged merchant license. The men are about to execute the boss when a woman jumps out to defend the boss with a ribbon weapon! One of the men recognizes her to be his daughter! The boss gets away and the man lets his daughter escape too. The daughter is caught by the boss as a traitor and this leads to a confrontation where all the shadow police and the boss get killed. The daughter, O'cho, like her father is mock executed and then recruited into the Shadow Police. She is instructed to complete her father's mission, find the forged license. This forces her to deal with the dead boss' crazed, criminal girlfriend, O'ren. Now the movie really gets going.

It's hard to describe a film that frequently stops for little solo dance numbers by the two lead actresses. Not on the regular sets but against theatrical fog lit by disco lights! The woman playing O'ren is really wild and has a nutty laugh. She often looks off camera and smiles at nobody. Another actor who plays Boss Hell, the local constable, is absolutely off the wall. He likes to lick the evidence and keep it in his mouth among other eccentric behaviors. He would easily fit in a modern Miike film.

The art direction is very good. The sets were not made to be realistic and that's fine. The music track is eccentric. The actors all do a good job. The fights are very good at times although it's not clear why swordsmen would be so fearful of a ribbon.

Fun and enjoyable, the nearly two hour length is almost too much. Not the best from Gosha but certainly a good effort.
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Mediocre effort
Ore-Sama23 March 2016
I love Hideo Gosha. At his best, he mixes some of the best action sequences of any samurai film with intricate, subversive stories. However, "Death Shadow" comes off as a pale imitation of his better films.

Describing the plot is nearly impossible. We start off immediately with three men agreeing to be shadow agents before skipping ahead to see them on a raid that ends with one of them reuniting with his daughter. Then events quickly lead to said daughter becoming a shadow agent (and by quickly I mean in the first half hour), before she leaves the film for awhile as we start delving into other conflicts.

Compared with how brilliantly economical the storytelling was in films such as "Three Outlaw Samurai" and especially "Sword of the Beast", wherein a variety of interesting characters got their stories across, being fulfilling and without feeling rushed, on top of fitting in plenty of action sequences into decently short running times.

This in contrast is an absolute sprawling mess. The plot changes focus about three times within the first half of the film, and worse than that, new characters are being brought in constantly, each with their own little plot thread that seems to exist purely to pad the run time. Compared to the evolving leads in previous Gosha films, Ocho doesn't have much going for her.

One would think the increased camp factor would add some charm, but they would be sadly mistaken. It's like Gosha's trying to do the movie in the style of the Adam West Batman TV series, however he never goes far enough with it, so you just end up with a film that has a bunch of quirks sprinkled throughout in what otherwise seems to be trying to be relatively serious. I think i get the kind of tone he was going for, but it didn't work, and the film's blatant attempts to draw laughter fall flat on their face. The character of Mr Hell is particularly grating.

To give credit, the action scenes are decent for the most part, and the film has a pretty decent look to it despite some obvious cheapness, but they're not enough to make up for everything else, and even these are sorely lacking compared to the director's previous efforts.

There's not a whole lot to recommend. There's certainly worse ways to spend nearly two hours, but you can also do a lot better than this.
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