Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Melodrama Versus The Sword in Samurai Assassin


Going into a movie you carry a lot of things - many of which you might be hard pressed to realize even on your best day. Not only the entirety of your life story walk through those screening doors and into the land of 'Play,' but so does everything anyone has ever told you (no matter how vague or distant) about the movie. The more time you put between the movie and yourself, the more you're likely to hear. It may be an onslaught of obsessive praising, indifferent moaning, or outright demonizing, or a good ol' fashion mix of the lot. Either way, there's no blank slates. No (as Mad likes to put it) 'blind viewings.'

So, when you managed to sneak in a film you've heard precious little about, read precious little on, and don't find yourself performing a Usain Bolt sprint into a brick wall of excrement, it's a rather rewarding experience. Such is my viewing of Samurai Assassin. Kihachi Okamoto's 1965 samurai tale of the Shakespearean (I know, overused term) variety, was described rather succinctly to me some years ago by an old blogging buddy. He merely offered two brief phrases - 1) "Very beautiful to look at" and 2) "Dreadfully, woefully slow."

He left it at that, and the following day quite blogging entirely when he got a job as a 'proper movie reviewer' (though he has since moved on from that). Probably why I remember his exact words so well. That, and after having finally taken the chance to view the film, I found myself questioning his viewpoint. In the end, I decided he was half right. The first part most indisputably so. From the camera angles to the lighting, Okamoto made Samurai Assassin an unbelievably beautiful film to watch. So much so, I honestly didn't want it to stop. Each sequence, each movement, not matter how shaky or stoic, just felt right. A rare treat by any filmgoer's standards, and doubled so for this film's sake.

The final battle in the field of snow is miracle whip on a beautiful cake. So, perhaps that's why I found myself deterring so much from his second point of view. So enthralled was I in the shots, that the film seemed to glide by with the greatest of ease. The characters, while at times a bit predictable, perfectly juxtaposed the imagery in every way imaginable. Laced with irony, loss, love, and violence all the way through, they are wonderfully layered and rich with indecisiveness, mystery, and complexity.

As to the flow of the narrative - yes, it takes its sweet time, but it does so with great purpose. No scene goes wasted. Each shot, each insight into the characters, reveals something, progresses something, and brings the ending that much more into the greater context of the film. Without these moments, the film would be a sprint to nowhere. But because we are privy to them, the ending hits that much more on point. Like an uppercut from a seasoned vet, it knocks out the audience whom fade in the blackness of the credits. If Okamoto's Sword of Doom contains even the mildest of comparable values as Samurai Assassin, I shall be a truly rewarded soul.

So, what does all this mean to you? I admit, I tried to be as vague as possible, but I do lack the reserved nature my blogging buddy of yesteryear possessed. I'll simply say this: If you love to just watch a movie sometimes, don't pass this one up.

Univarn's Rating: 8.50/10

2 better thoughts:

The Film Connoisseur said...

Loved Samurai Assassin, though in reality that film is composed of two other films.

I'm not sure if the impact the film has would be the same had I watched both films back to back.

I've never seen the original two films, but I'm guessing that what the Americans did was they took out the parts of the film they considered slow or boring and kept the most essential parts in terms of story and violence.

But Samurai Assasin is great the way it is in my opinion.

The Film Connoisseur said...

By the way, I will be reviewing this film soon as part of my Japanese Themed Summer!

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