THIS MOVIE SLAUGHTERS KILL BILL and KUROSAWA!
JAN 16, 2004
Just give reputed rebel Hiroyuki Nakano 45 days and he’ll return with a completely unique, extensively tricked-out treasure that indulges its audience in everything that works well in cinema today, as well as many decades past. Innovative, incredible and awe-inspiring, this film combines seemingly spontaneous shots with amazingly precarious remote-controlled crane maneuvers (which took a whole day to perfect!). Nakano has received numerous and well-deserved awards for this, his first foray into feature-length motion picture. He previously won recognition and awards for his unique music videos and short films. TRIVIA: the filming would have been completed in 35 days, if not for a typhoon.
Samurai Fiction is the only recently developed revenge film to deliver a message that is never allowed utterance in any violent setting: “Forgive your foes”. It is also the only period piece to include wacky humour such as pants zipper sounds (before trouser hardware was invented, you dig?), a gravity defying ninja room, and off-beat dialogue to create an outstanding, hilarious modern parody. It is not, however, the first period piece to rely on brilliant cinematography (hats off to D.P. Yujiro Yajima!), writers (Hiroshi Saitoh and Hiroyuki Nakano), and editor (Kiyoharu Miyazaki). Nakano painstakingly edited every single frame after the time consuming switch from colour frames to B/W were completed.
KINETIC!! WAPOW!! Sorries, I couldn’t control myself there. Kinetic is the best word to describe this movie. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or post-production CGI tricks. This is purely intense filmmaking that draws its energy from the abilities of its cast and staff. Hiring a completely veteran lead film crew, all masters in their field (for example, the sound engineer had worked on more than 2000 films), Nakano did his own “homework” by viewing dozens of old samurai movies, especially Kurosawa’s. This presented another problem, though. Being a noob (novice) to period films, he sometimes desired an effect simply because he thought it looked cool. Takakura Eizo, martial arts choreographer and master swordsman, vied for authenticity. For example, he told Nakano that it was disrespectful for a samurai to raise his foot in front of another and therefore would never kick.
Perhaps because he was surrounded by such expertise, Nakano felt he could slip in some charismatic individuals who never had formal training. There were comedians, musicians and rock stars, including the tremendously popular Tomoyasu Hotei, who wrote and performed tunes featured in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Kill Bill (you’ve heard his guitar in the Kill Bill trailers). Of course Hotei did the SF soundtrack, and of course it is monumental, but he is also a surprisingly adept actor. The rock star portrays the menacing Rannosuke Kazamatsuri, a rogue samurai originally hired by the Lord of the land to entertain him in gladiator style matches. No one is able to defeat this guy! Hotei’s height, (190 cm or 6' 3") was even written into the script and appears on a wanted poster, er, scroll. Even though the rest of the cast is taller than Tom Cruise, he still towers over the lot, while clever camera angles emphasize. Even though he is a newcomer to the clan, Kazamatsuri is entrusted with the clan treasure:a gorgeously crafted sword received from sovereign Lord Tokugawa.
Shortly thereafter, a scuffle, a murder, and the sword and the tall stranger are nowhere to be seen. Heishiro Inukai (Mitsuro Fukikoshi who has an appropriately comic-book hero sculpted visage and demeanor) impulsively races off to retrieve the sword, save his clan’s honor, and more importantly, get revenge. Without his consent, Heishiro’s two best buddies join him on his quest and form a sort-of Stooge routine, bumbling about and enjoying each other’s company even in this serious setting.
The trio eventually meets up with their nemesis and, of course, a skillful melee ensues. Remember when I said, “no one is able to defeat this guy”? You can't help but think about that when you watch the youngins’ brave attempts. Luckily, Kenpo (fencing) master Hanbei Mizoguchi (handled with charming warmth by the famous Morio Kazama) rescues Heishiro, but not with a sword --with an accurately projected stone, apologies and requisitions.
Hanbei and his beautiful daughter aid Heishiro's insolent recovery in a perfect little cabin nuzzled by Nature. People do not heal overnight in this movie, and that is refreshing. The phases of the moon provided chapter recesses but also poetically express the passage of time, which doesn’t move quickly enough for hot-headed Heishiro. He covets absolution and brutal revenge, which his boarders try to quell, teaching him to use his brains, strategy, and skill instead. Of course Heishiro isn’t going to be satisfied with that, so Hanbei agrees to train him, but not as a Kenpo warrior --as a professional rock-tosser. It sounds strange, but there is a definite method to his madness. Hanbei's altruism seals the deal on the anti-revenge sentiment, but at what cost to his psyche?
Don’t worry.. for you hardcore fight fans, there are plenty of wicked battles mixed with non-verbal duels. An example of the latter involves the unsettling pride struggle/sexual tension between Kazamatsuri and Okatsu (Mari Natsuki).
Quoted verbatim from Nakano’s website: Sex in a Bottle: Mari Natsuki excels in the sultry role of Okatsu. Full frontal nudity is not needed to express the pure sex of temptress, Okatsu. A simple and compelling close-up of Okatsu*s mouth, a stream of smoke escaping with a hiss as her eyelids rise in invitation, is all that is needed to excite most men.
Facial expressions and key delivery are on-point, creating characters that were filled to the brim with exciting depth and charge. Nakano was lucky to assemble such a marvelous cast and lucky that they were patient enough to endure his scrutinizing (to be fair, what Director isn't a perfectionist?) amazingly refreshing ideals. Lucky for us, the audience, because the end result triumphed and is absolutely gorgeous! It spans the age gap between Kurosawa and MTv, and is sure to please the entire range of that spectrum.
In the year 1998, Hiroyuki Nakano, known as the ‘Akira Kurosawa of the music video industry’, made a cool, funky and peaceful movie. Nobody would think SF was a real movie without him. However, making the film was like a war between the visual artists, Nakano, and the filmmakers who follow traditional filmmaking. There were many people with strong personalities. So begins the documentary included on the bonus disc for one of the most enjoyable films I’ve ever seen.
The refreshing documentary, appropriately titled Samurai Non-Fiction, recalls the sometimes disheartening, always unpredictable misadventures of the movie world as they happened. Set in real-time live Japanese TV stylee, it is engaging, informative, and funny as hell. It isn’t a bunch of gordos sitting around applauding each other on how wonderful it was or bragging about how important they were, blahblah. In fact, the costume designer (who has 33 movies, 100+ TV shows on his dossier) modestly states, “I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to bore you with old stuff”. You get to be right there in the bunker with the crew, sweating out the arduous tasks, exasperated by multiple postponements due to a typhoon, and jarred by a few eruptions of artistic differences. But you also get to witness the hilarity.. in fact, it’s probably the only “blooper footage” that includes drunken nudity.
“Too much modesty brings others’ hatred.”
“Such an idiot can succeed to important positions. That’s the way of the world.”
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