Review for Samurai Warrior
Of late, MVM's live action movie output has focused a lot on one particular niche genre, or rather more specifically, the selected output of one particular director, Seiji Chiba. Seiji Chiba specialises in ninja movies, cheap and cheerful ninja movies, inexpensively shot on location with a regular cast, and similar stories. In sixty minute chunks of digital cinematography, the Kouga and the Iga ninja clans battle over and over for supremacy. With all this ninja action, you wouldn't be surprised to see the Samurai feeling left out. Well this spring, MVM are redressing the balance by releasing a cheap and cheerful, low budget Samurai movie, Samurai Warrior a.k.a. Sengoku Bancho Gachi-zamurai, directed by Takashi Miike's former AD, Kenichiro Nishiumi.
It's the Warring States period in Japan, when warlords did battle to become Shogun and in doing so unify the country. The same battles happen in microcosm for friends Ryu, Gon and Yonesuke, three young farmers who would much rather prove their strength against rival villages, than do an honest day's work. Their plan is to take the first step to the top of the country by unifying the local villages, and so it is that the young hoodlums of the area do battle with wooden swords to prove their prowess and strength of character. But a dose of reality is injected into this rough-housing, when an actual warrior named Jojima returns from the wars, and decides to take part in these little 'games'.
Samurai Warrior gets the same sort of low budget cinematography as the Seiji Chiba ninja movies. Shot digitally on location with natural light, the look of the film is decidedly simplistic, with grain and softness afflicting darker scenes, as well as some digital banding. The disc presents this image anamorphically at a 1.85:1 ratio, and with most of the film taking place in exterior daylight locations, softness is rarely an issue. What is annoying is the shaky cam technique used during the action sequences. Audio comes in DD 2.0 Japanese form, with optional English subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout, while the music reflects the budget of the movie, and is very forgettable. The only extra on the disc is the film's trailer.
Samurai Warrior turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. I wasn't expecting too much more than the Seiji Chiba films, and certainly in terms of production value, look, and location, Samurai Warrior did have a similarity to films like Ninja Girl and Ninja Battle. But where Samurai Warrior excelled was in the acting and in the story. In terms of the cast Yuma Ishigaki (Ryo) has been in 13 Assassins, and indeed the Azumi movies, while Suzunosuke is in the two Crow movies, scheduled for release this summer from MVM. The acting is certainly of an appealing standard, while the writing and the story helps to make these characters interesting and rounded, even in the short 65 minute runtime. Where Samurai Warrior is lacking in comparison to those ninja movies, is in the action sequences, as the sword fights seem rough and ready, and more like free-for-alls, rather than carefully rehearsed and choreographed.
It's the story that is the most interesting aspect of Samurai Warrior, although it does take a while to get going, and a fair bit of time is spent developing the characters and setting the scene. It's gang warfare in the feudal age, with young hoodlums preferring to strut their stuff and spray testosterone, rather than actually do a hard day's work on the farm. It's all about gang colours and tribal dominance, much the same situation on a larger scale in Japan of the Warring States period. The difference here is that they are just 'practicing', the weapons they use are wooden swords, and the worst that can happen is a severe beating.
Ryu being the toughest, smartest, and best of the fighters, his ambitions are the greatest, even though he comes home to be regularly chided by his mother for not doing any real work. But his youthful exuberance and self-confidence keeps being shaken. First, he meets a girl, downfall of many a warrior. Oman is from a rival village, and Ryu rescues her from a snake. Sucking out snake venom is enough to qualify as a first date, but hearing Oman's opinion of young men who'd rather swing swords at each other than do something constructive gets him to thinking. That isn't helped when he learns what really happened to his father, and just where he gets that ambitious streak from. Conflicting thoughts are the last things he needs when he faces betrayal, and the return of warrior Jojima, who fights with a real sword, not just a wooden facsimile.
Samurai Warrior does take a while to get going, but the story does grab hold, the characters are interesting and you do become invested in the decisions that they make. The action isn't quite there, but for a low budget movie, Samurai Warrior does offer much of quality. It's certainly worth taking a punt on.