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Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics (Samurai Rebellion/Sword of the Beast/Samurai Spy/Kill!) (Criterion Collection)
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Surly scowls and flashing swords abound in Rebel Samurai - Sixties Swordplay Classics, a dazzling new box set from the Criterion Collection. The samurai genre is often compared with the Western, but three of these movies are closer to film noir; shot on a limited budget, they make up for limited production values with ingenious direction, punchy editing, and heated emotions. All four, however, are notable for their jaundiced view of the traditional samurai culture--the blind loyalty to their masters, holding honor above all, sacrificing self for the good of the clan.
Masaki Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion, starring Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, Shogun), is the most traditional of the four: Visually elegant and austere, it meticulously traces how a forced marriage leads to a family's collapse in a bloodbath. Repressed emotions erupt in honor-shattering violence as a father and son turn against the lord of their clan in the name of love. In the other three, the moviemaking itself reflects the upset in values. Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast follows an aimless ronin (a masterless warrior) who, pursuing gold, finds a new meaning in life as he battles killers from his own clan. "To hell with name and pride!" he shrieks in the first five minutes of the movie, mere seconds after a sexual dalliance in the underbrush. The story roars along, the visual style loose and dynamic, the characters far more gritty and rough than the stiff-backed soldiers of Samurai Rebellion.
Masahiro Shinoda's Samurai Spy fairly explodes with spectacular action sequences and dynamic editing; the politics are almost impossible to follow, but the story rips along as a handsome spy navigates a treacherous war, musing about life and death when he's not engaged in acrobatic swordplay. The final film, Kihachi Okamoto's Kill!, is as outrageous as its title. From the opening scene of a starving ronin stumbling out of a howling dust storm, Kill! pushes the complexity of clan politics to absurd proportions and discards stylized duels in favor of realistically brutal and clumsy butchery, backed up with a startling surf guitar soundtrack. Black humor abounds as wildly eccentric characters--including Tatsuya Nakadai as a laconic, Robert-Mitchum-flavored ronin--scrabble for food, sex, and some shred of dignity in a ravaged landscape. All four films will be a revelation to anyone who thinks the samurai genre begins and ends with Kurosawa. Each is mesmerizing on its own; as a package, they're a potent education. Essential viewing. --Bret Fetzer
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Of the four films, "Samurai Rebellion" is the greatest masterpiece. Toshiro Mifune is incredible as an aging samurai trying to maintain his honor and the honor of his family in an age that is no longer honorable. Director Kobayashi ("Harakiri") should rightfully take his place next to Kurosawa and Ozu in the pantheon of great Japanese directors. Masahiro Shinoda ("Double Suicide") gives us "Samurai Spy," a tale of intrigue deeply wrapped up in real Japanese history. It is almost film noir, with its twisting plots and shifting loyalties. Hideo Gosha ("Three Outlaw Samurai") in "Sword of the Beast" shows a bleak portrait of a samurai who comes to realize that honor is garbage and that he is nothing more than a pawn of bureaucracy. Finally, Kihachi Okamoto ("Sword of Doom") goes in an entirely different direction with the parody "Kill!," which is sort of the "Blazing Saddles" of the chambara genre.
Anyone fan of the samurai genre is probably planning to pick up these four DVDs individually, and this box set allows you to get them all for a bit cheaper. For Criterion Collection releases, they are surprisingly bare-bones, being only the movie with few extras, but at least they are available and looking beautiful. The box itself is annoying, only opening on the bottom as opposed to the side like most boxes. This makes it hard to access the DVDs, as you have to pull them all out in order to get the DVD you are searching for.
"Samurai rebellion" is a great tragedy, with a top-notch Toshiro Mifune as a retired swordsman, a shakespearian final battle, and a great plot. The oral arguments are as sharp as the sword fights.
"Sword of the beast" is a very good thriller, with a ronin on the run after being used by his master in a power grab.
"Samurai spy" is centered around spies, with a twisted plot, double crossings and deceptions a-plenty, and a captivating intrigue.
And for me, the gem is "Kill!", which skillfully moves between tragedy and comedy, has hysterical moments of slapstick combined with a solid storyline, and mixes the traditional samurai movie codes with western influences: highly recommended.
* SAMURAI REBELLION (imdb score: 8.4/10, 303 votes)
Excerpt From 1993 Interview with director Masaki Kobayashi
Original Theatrical Trailer
Essay by Japanese film historian Donald Richie
In Masaki Kobayashi's SAMURAI REBELLION, a formerly loyal Bushido warrior revolts against his tyrannical lord when the royals claim his unwilling daughter-in-law as a mistress. Although his quest for justice is futile, the swordsman refuses to accept the command without a fight. Theatrical release: December 1967. Winner of the FIPRESCI Award at the 1967 Venice Film Festival. Toshirô Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai also appear in many of Akira Kurosawa's films.
* SAMURAI SPY (imdb score: 6.8/10, 47 votes)
Video Interview with director
Essay by film scholar Alain Silver
Director Masahiro Shinoda weaves a complex, twisty narrative in the aptly named SAMURAI SPY, which follows war- and subterfuge-weary warrior Sasuke Sarutobi (Tetsuro Tamba) as he gets drawn into one last mission, tracing a wily defector named Koritama. Defying the genre conventions of samurai films, Shinoda's story is full of noir-ish intrigue and double-crosses. It takes place in a world where none of the characters, not even samurai, are what they seem.
* SWORD OF THE BEAST (imdb score: 7/10, 10 votes)
Essay by japanese film and pop culture authority Patrick Macias
After killing one of his own clan's ministers in a reform plan gone awry, proud samurai Gennosuke (Mikijiro Hira) flees his former comrades and, thoroughly shaken, goes to live alone in the wilderness in SWORD OF THE BEAST. There he falls in with a group of illegal miners and a master swordsman named Yamane (Go Kato), who eventually shows him how to recapture his lost honor. Director Hideo Gosha is a master at shooting swordplay, but here he handles the more interior, emotional moments with just as much skill.
* KILL! (imdb score: 7.1/10, 80 votes)
Original Theatrical Trailer
Essay by film historian and culture critic Howard Hampton
Two scruffy swordsmen, Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) and Hanji (Etsushi Takahashi), are the focus of Kihachi Okamoto's black comedy, which is loosely based on the same novel that inspired Kurosawa's SANJURO. Genti, a weary ex-samurai, and Hanji, a former farmer and aspiring warrior, arrive in a small town and promptly get sucked into a dispute between a brutal, corrupt clan leader and a group of brave but hapless rebels. Full of dark, irreverent humor as well as plenty of action, KILL! keeps up a quick pace, and features music by Masaru Sato (who also composed YOJIMBO's terrific score).
audio is in mono, with improved english subtitles. available 10/25/05. imdb scores as of 10/14/05. all info obtained from other websites.
I really enjoy this set because it shows a wide breath of the samurai film genre. It includes the traditional lord vs. retainer film Samurai Rebellion. Which is arguably one of the best samurai films ever made. Kill! is a fun spaghetti-western style film. If your a fan of Yojimbo, you'll immediately gravitate toward Kill! Samurai Spy is a bit hard to follow due to the large cast. But that just encourages repeat viewings! Samurai Spy is pretty interesting in that it can introduce people to the sub-genre of Ninja films, (the real ones, not the cheezy 80's fake ones.) Sword of the Beast is more of a examination of a Ronin who's trying to find something to live for after he's been sold out by his clan. Directed by the great samurai director Hideo Gosha, you can't go wrong with this one.
Overall, it's a great starter box for anyone interested in diving into the genre. If you've watched Seven Samurai or Yojimbo, and you feel like you want to explore more. I highly recommend this set!
This box set contains 4 individually cased DVDs. These DVDs contain minimal extras. There is a nice interview with Masahiro Shinoda, the director of Samurai Spy and a very short clip of what appears to be a very interesting interview with Masaki Kobayashi, the director of Samurai Rebellion. No commentaries.
Samurai Rebellion (1967)
Sword Of The Beast (1965)
Samurai Spy (1965)
Sword Of The Beast (1965) is a melodramatic and contrived affair. There is some poor camera work with some out of focus shots and uninspired framing. The fights are poorly choreographed or in some cases simply hidden by tall grass. Not a classic in my humble opinion.
Samurai Spy (1965) is a narrative confusion as so many names are thrown at you that you are never sure who is who. The fights are also pretty lame with flying ninjas and leaping warriors. The final duel is not a duel at all but endless exposition in the vain of an Agatha Christie reveal. Not a Classic at all!
Samurai Rebellion (1967) is wonderful. The slow build up to impending doom is handled masterfully and Toshiro Mifune is brilliant as a Samurai that learns a reason for living. This is a Classic!
Kill! (1968) is a sort of Spaghetti Western influenced Samurai picture with attempts at comedy never far away. The constant mugging (pulling stupid faces) of the two leads becomes tiresome, as does the whole adventure. Not a Classic!
This is an interesting and expensive set yet I was very disappointed by all the films but Samurai Rebellion, which in my humble opinion is the only true samurai classic included here.
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