Genre: Low Budget Devil-Lacking Samurai Adventure
review in one breath
The brooding pretty-boy samurai Sasaki Shuranosuke finds himself embroiled in a complicated plot involving vanquished ninja clans, hidden treasure, and the mysterious power of a pair of ancient swords. And behind it all are some seemingly indestructible master minds poised to defeat him in order to bring about a diabolical revolution. Sometimes schlock, sometimes poseur, this remains a good rainy-day samurai flick if you need one.
This 1996 film is directed by Tsushima Masaru whose directorial career consists (to date) of 43 films many of which deal with ninja and samurai themes. It seems that none of Tsushima's films except this one have made an appearance in the west. The lead role of Shuranoke is played by Kyomoto Masaki who you will certainly NOT recognize as professor Ryo in the 2004 film Cutie Honey.
The main character herein is Shuranosuke Sakaki, a formidable ronin samurai who may or may not step in to exact justice in an otherwise unfair world. The character "Shuranosuke Sakaki" is a long-running manga character and had his onscreen debut in the 1990 animation Sword for Truth by anime director Dezaki Osamu. This well-established reputation of the formidable character Shuranosuke accounts for his almost poseur stature in the current film.
Although we are here given some flashback inkling into the haunting past of Shuranosuke, his reputation and attitude clearly precede him in ways which only prior volumes can justify. Unfortunately, viewers of this film will likely remain unaware of Shuranosuke's established past and thus temper his incredibly stoic pose with a giggle or two due to his propensity for mascara and flamboyant purple robes (!!!).
Here is another (very) early Tokugawa Era tale in which the few survivors of various military clans recently vanquished by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (???? 1536 - 1593) seek to re-establish themselves despite the widespread destruction of their clans and palaces.
Here's some (TRUE) history relevant to this film's narrative:
During the late Sengoku Era, one of the most powerful military clans was the Hojo (??) occupying the Kamakura region. In 1590 AD, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, fighting in the name of the Tokugawa regime, completely overthrew the Hojo Clan in what is known as the Seige of Odawara. The name "Odawara" refers to the principal Hojo palace at which this conquest took place.
Elsewhere, the daimyo Masamune Date was given permission in 1600 by the Tokugawan shogunate to relocate to the far northern region of Sendai (??). Historically, the city of Sendai became an early stronghold for the Christian religion in Japan.
Thus according to the film's storyline, it makes sense that a (gold spandex-clad babe-a-licious!) remnant of the Hojo clan is striving to reclaim a magical sword stolen by Toyotomi and given to his colleagues. Similarly, the fact that the far northern Sendai daimyo Masamune also possesses the spoils of Toyotomi's looting makes sense.
What is interesting here is that Sendai's Masamune is secretly devoted to Christianity while (naively) befriending an ultimately EVIL (seemingly Tokugawan-friendly) buddhist priest.
(Fictional) Ancient rumor suggests that when the two swords of Hojo and Sendai are brought together, a world-changing secret will be revealed.
Needless to say, our steely-eyed samurai Shuranosuke finds himself in the midst of the bloody battles over possession of the two swords.
Undoubtedly, a little background is required here for a full appreciation of this film. Without the history, Shuranosuke easily comes across as an almost "campy" character, so overly confident in himself that even the males in the audience are forced to inexplicably swoon at his feet (or simply break out in giggles).
In essence, this is a low budget samurai film lacking any real special effects. The use of 770 pound Black American Emanuel Yarbrough as an invincible monster and dressing the remnant female Hojo ninja in gold spandex all point audiences toward the almost undeniable conclusion that this is a tongue in cheek film. But ALAS, this film will not commit itself to being funny but instead ends up dangling rather ineffectively between an impossibly serious story and a potentially hilarious samurai slasher.
Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues.
|Approximately ZERO.||Copious sword hacking. One stoic and demented self-loss of limb.||Though plenty of females swoon at Shuranosuke's feet, he never nabs a naked nipple.||Though worth watching, this doesn't quite merit any green points.|