Kill! – Criterion Collection — dvd movie review
Posted on March 4, 2006 by Chris Nelson
We finish our review of Criterion’s Rebel Samurai box set with the final film, Kill!
It’s not often a movie you’ve never heard of comes along and muscles its way to a top position on your genre favorites list, but that’s exactly what’s happened to with Kill!, Kihachi Okamoto’s (Sword of Doom) brilliantly funny, tongue in cheek take on the chanbara film.
Based on the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, Kill! revolves around two characters, Hanji (Etsushi Takahashi, Red Lion, Hanzo the Razor 3: Who’s Got the Gold?), a farmer whose dream of becoming a samurai has led him to sell his rice fields for a single sword, and Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran, Kagemusha), a former samurai, who having experienced first hand the duplicitous nature of the entrenched bureaucracy, has abandoned his office to become a wandering vagrant. The two men meet up in a dusty ramshackle town on a quest for food, both not having eaten for roughly five days. The two bear witness to the assassination of a chancellor, carried out by seven samurai on a mission of “political reform” for their clan leader. As luck would have it, the two discover the samurai have been set up by their leader. The two race against time to save the seven as they hold up in a small, hidden fortress on a mountainside as Shogunate officials, snipers, and a band of assassins hired by Ayuzama move in for their execution.
The feedback between the western and the eastern is readily apparent in many a film in either genre. The aforementioned Sanjuro and the previous film in the series, Yojimo were both heavily influenced by the American western. Furthermore Yojimbo was remade as the western favorite A Fistful of Dollars (near shot for shot), and most recently as the Bruce Willis vehicle, Last Man Standing. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which this film references, has been remade as both The Magnificent Seven and A Bug’s Life. While these films remained firmly entrenched genre pieces, Kill! becomes something of a hybrid, embraces elements from both the samurai and the spaghetti western equally. Many of the action set-pieces atop the mountain are a mixture of swordplay and shootouts, and the entire film is scored with spaghetti western, Morricone-esque guitars.
The film is definitely different in its irreverent attitude toward the samurai. On more than one occasion Genta reminds Hanji samurai are not all they’re cracked up to be, and not without good reason. The majority of the samurai in this film are portrayed as rank-obsessed yes-men, drunkards, and misogynists. Though there are certainly honorable samurai in the mix, notably Tetsutaro, the majority let common sense go by the way side as their entrenched class discriminations put them in danger on more than one occasion. The primary leader shown in the film, the evil Ayuzama, proves to have nothing but his own advancement in mind, willing to sacrifice many an errand-boy in their quest for power. As the saying goes, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Only the elderly chancellor Moriuchi has a different set of priorities, namely naptime and pursuing the company of cute girls.
Standing in stark contrast to all this are Genta and Hanji. Vagrants and bumpkins they may be, the duo prove that one need not have an impressive rank to be truly honorable. Hanji, though slow and apt to solve problems with brute force, many a time to hilarious effect, lets his heart decide between right and what is wrong. Likewise, Genta thinks for himself, letting logic and reason rather than peer influences decide his actions. Many a time the two opt for the hard road simply because it is the right thing to do.
Though this film is packed with stunning battles and intrigue it is at heart a comedy, and a great one at that. Genta and Hanji’s mishaps, and the pitch perfect performances of Takahashi and Nakadai, made me laugh out loud more than a handful of times (in fact I think I scared our cats). And Hanji’s visit to a brothel, and his quest to find a woman who “smells like the earth” has to be one of the funniest sequences I have seen in quite some time.
Again, another home video debut with a stellar transfer (2.35:1 anamorphic) from Criterion. The sound is excellent, represented in original mono format. The essay by Howard Hanpton is informative, if a bit flowery, with lots of talk of cheekbones. There are no real extras to speak of, but I must say that this film is more than worth it. In fact, if you can only afford to get one film from the set, Kill! should be it. Buy this now!
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