Saturday, May 11, 2013

Samurai Assassin (1965)

The year is 1860 and Japan is in a extremely unstable state. The 300 year rule of the Shogunate was drawing to a close, an event which would simultaneously bring Imperialism to Japan, and bring about the death of the Samurai age. This is the setting of Samurai Assassin, a highly complicated, and character driven Chambara film that is shot in brilliant black and white. It also features one of Toshiro Mifune's best performances, as well as an astounding finale that's just too cool for words.

Mifune plays Niiro Tsuruchiyo, a master-less samurai who joins forces with the multiple clans against the Lord of Hikone, Sir Li Kamonnokami Naosuke. Li is the right hand of the shogunate who brought upon himself the wrath of the Satsuma, Mito, and Choshuu provinces after making an unpopular choice for the appointment of the 14th shogunate. Many critics arouse after the controversial appointment and as a result Li initiated the Ansei Purge to quiet critics of his choices. This in turn, lead to an assassination plot hatched by the three provinces in order to remove Li from his position of power. Here enters Mifune, who wants to help the clans in order to become a samurai of the Mito house. If that's not enough, the clans have their own problems too trying to weed Li's spies out of the plot. As you can imagine it's a film full of intrigue, espionage, underhanded dealings, and of course assassinations. If all this sounds's because it is.

Looking past the intricate plot of Samurai Assassin the film is basically a detailed character study of Mifune's Niiro. Much of the film deals with his mysterious past and is told through flashbacks. Some as first hand accounts, others through investigative interviews headed by the clan who is trying to root out Li's spies. This serves as both a negative and a positive for Assassin. While it helps develop Mifune's character (and he's excellent as always), it also slows the film to a snails pace. We also have a subplot about Niiro's past featuring a long story of forbidden love. The films first hour concerns itself mostly with these issues, while the second half slowly builds to an incredibly brutal finale.

Bottom line- Samurai Assassin takes some time to get where it's going and it suffers from pacing issues, but when it gets to its point it redeems most of the film's shortcomings. The finale is a brutal scene filmed in swirling clouds of snow and features an dizzying, blood soaked, action packed conclusion sure to satisfy any Chambara fan. 7.5/10

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