Sunday, March 12, 2006

[DVD] Samurai Fiction (1998)

Style and Substance. That's what Samurai Fiction is about. I was surprised at the many MTV-ish stylistic shots incorporated into the movie, without a blatant disregard for the storyline, incorporating very modern rock into its soundtrack.

The Inukai clan had their family sword stolen by a renegade samurai Rannosuke Kazamatsuri. Swearing to get it back, Heishiro Inukai embarks on a journey to hunt down Kazamatsuri. However, his skills are no match for a seasoned warrior who has killed many, and almost had his life ended until he is saved by a hermit Hanbei Mizoguchi.

It's a tale of 3 very diverse samurais, each carrying a theme. The peaceful Hanbei Mizoguchi, highly skilled, but abhors the use of violence. The cool and violent killer without remorse Rannosuke Kazamatsuri, who becomes obsessed with challenging Hanbei to a duel. The inept Heishiro Inukai, who defies his father's wishes to embark on a solo quest to regain their family honour. Thrown into the fray are 2 ninjas on a quest to protect Heishiro and carry out his family's orders on his behalf, and Koharu Mizoguchi, the adopted daughter of Hanbei, with whom Heishiro falls in love with.

The storyline might be pretty ordinary, on one end, the revenge theme, the other, love and peace. But I suppose these are themes that are quite universal, especially in martial arts stories.

The fights are all done very simply. Stylish, but kept uncluttered. Shot in black and white, colours are used sparingly, except for the coating of entire frames in red when someone gets killed. You don't see blood, but you see plenty of varying shots and angles of the fight sequences, done mostly with the help of a crane.

What works for me are the comedic characters like Heishiro's friends, early in the beginning, in their run up (pardon the pun) to catching Kazamatsuri. Also, the soundtrack is totally awesome, unlike the use of traditional music to spice up the fights. You might also know that Ronnosuke Kazamatsuri is played by real life rocker Tomoyasu Hotei, who also did that excellent track Battle Without Honor or Humanity, used in the Kill Bill Vol 1 movie.

It's weird to notice that this movie is actually billed as Episode 1. It's been 8 years and I'm not aware of a sequel or continuation in place. But I guess Samurai Fiction has already told the story it wants to tell, and there shouldn't be a need for a follow up.

Code 1 DVD contains the movie and a making of documentary, and a separate disc containing bloopers, cast biographies, how two scenes actually looked in colour, the trailers, and an entire 1 hour feature on the making of the Samurai Fiction, which showed that a simple movie also has its fair share of difficulties, and Mother Nature did its best to stall production.

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