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RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
A samurai film from the director and star of many of the Zatochi films, only instead of an awesome populist film series it’s a movie about the social minutia of samurai life. The extremely boring everyday minutia.
Shintarô Katsu, Raizô Ichikawa, Chitose Maki, directed by Kazuo Mori
Two samurai from rival schools become indebted to each other when one tells the other his robe will fall off, and that’s about as exciting as it gets. They both fall for the same girl and someone wants to know when an evil lord will have his tea or something. The samurai end up on different sides of an assassination, but that doesn’t matter because they never really see each other. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t understand half the plot and there wasn’t nearly enough sword action to keep my attention. Needs more explosions.
The real life version of the Ninja Gaiden dogs are just as nasty as their 8-bit counterparts.
Before Samurai Vendetta gets to the main menu, there is a warning screen telling you to read an extra on the story of The 47 Ronin before watching the film. I know nothing about Japanese culture or history so I quickly scanned the text before watching the movie thinking I might the kind of viewer to benefit. Reading about such general history is pure boredom and I really should have taken that as a warning sign for what I was in for. For a film I figured was about a samurai with a vendetta they really spend a lot of time talking about proper manners. It’s not Jane Austin with swords, but that would have easily been a better use of 110 minutes.
Samurai Vendetta is a convoluted mess for the average western viewer. Some, terribly misguided, people say Ozu’s films are too Japanese for a western audience, but Samurai Vendetta is a true example at how impenetrable Japanese culture can be. This is a slow trudge through long discussions of manners and social standings. And yes, it’s full of foreign words I don’t understand. This disc comes with subtitles explaining some of the unfamiliar words, but not nearly all of them. There were entire conversations and plot threads that I couldn’t fit into any context so they just passed me by. I’m ignorant of a lot of the culture, that’s my fault and not any fault of the film, but this isn’t the type of film that makes me want to trash that home grown American ignorance. It’s a film in a crowded genre with countless betters, betters that don’t require reference Wikipedia every five minutes.
If I wanted to show someone a mid-century American genre film that required a basic understanding of American culture to understand, I would show them The Searchers, a film that is entertaining even with zero historical knowledge. I would not show Paint Your Wagon, a film that should only be seen for the very American kitsch value. It’s not the best example, but I honestly have no idea where the interest in Samurai Vendetta would come from. It’s probably less of a sleep-aid if you are interested in Japanese history, but it’s value as a film is pretty fucking nill. It has the pretty locations and very Japanese acting you’d expect, but that’s in every samurai movie ever made. And it’s missing most of the things that make even the worst samurai films entertaining, like copious amounts of blood and bitter old geisha house owners who beat up their geishas. I’m not saying every samurai film has to be Kurosawa level, but a genre about people hitting each other with swords should not bore me.
Mel Gibson’s kabuki remake of The Passion was not the comeback he was hoping for.
Maybe that’s like complaining Dangerous Minds isn’t more like The Substitute, and that’s about right. Dangerous Minds is just one of a million really offensive movies where minority’s learn from their white teacher, and Samurai Vendetta is just a random overly melodramatic samurai film. There is no reason to recommend this film, you’d be much better off with any of the Zatôichi films also directed by Kazuo Mori and starring Nakayama Yasubei. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather have a trashy fun samurai film than a dull film that happens to have samurai in it. Hanzo the Ranzor has a samurai who uses his giant penis as a weapon, Samurai Vendetta has a twenty minute discussion about a tea room. Easy choice for me. Really though, why watch Michelle Phiffer recite Bob Dylan when you can watch Tom Berenger punch people?
The film comes with a decent transfer and an iffy, scratchy sound track. The subpar audio is probably do to age and the fact that no one really gives a fuck about this film and it’s only mildly distracting. Much more distracting were the strange giant yellow and red subtitles my player using. The disc has multiple options for subtitles and captions listed on the menu, but they are all slightly intrusive and ugly. The extras are mostly images and notes, the only video extra is the trailer.