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Original Title:
Samurai Fiction

Japan 1998

Action, Comedy

Hiroyuki Nakano

Mitsuru Fukikoshi
Tomoyasu Hotei
Morio Kazama
Tamaki Ogawa
Mari Natsuki
Taketoshi Naito
Fumiya Fujii
Naoyuki Fujii
Kei Tani
Ken Osawa
Hiroshi Kanbe
Ryoichi Yuki
Akiko Monou
Taro Maruse
Yuji Nakamura

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Samurai Fiction

Story: Heishiro Inukai (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) is the son of a clan-leader, who is responsible for the guarding of a valuable sword. It's just this very sword that gets stolen by the samurai Kazamatsuri (Tomoyasu Hotei), even though this person was hired for the protection of it. Heishiro and two of his friends go after Kazamatsuri and want to face him in a battle, but eventually they stand no chance against him. Heishiro survives only by the help of the ronin Mizoguchi (Morio Kazama). Mizoguchi gives Heishiro shelter at his home and together with his daughter Koharu (Tamaki Ogawa) they nurse him until he gets better. However, Heishiro now more than ever wants to face Kazamatsuri and revenge his friends, but with a lot of effort Mizoguchi succeeds in holding him back for the moment. He tries to teach him that the way of the samurai isn't the one of killing. At the same time, two hired assassins try to kill Kazamatsuri, too, but without success. The sword fighter finds nobody who is a match for him, only Mizoguchi seems to be on par with his sword skills and so the inevitable showdown between them is only a matter of time...

Review: It's a little bit risky, even for Japanese moviemakers, to shoot a black-and-white movie nowadays. When you also mix an actually classic chambara-story with off-beat humor and modern stylistic devices like a rock soundtrack then you get "Samurai Fiction" as a result. A genuine movie, in which more than anything else the entertainment value stands in the focus. Apparently paying hommage to Akira Kurosawa on several occasions, there are above all else lots of gags, in which the genre is affectionately made fun of, that work out pretty well. Also standing out are the impressive visuals, which also didn't elude Quentin Tarantinos eyes, therefore making him copy the intro secquence of "Samurai Fiction", where the opponents are only visible as silhouettes behind closed shoji-doors, for his "Kill Bill".

Narrational-wise the movie is also quite unusual. The story is told from our modern time by a reincarnation of Heishiro, at least that's what we are lead to believe. This oftentimes hotheaded samurai is the actual protagonist of the story. Set against him as an antagonist is Kazamatsuri, but on a second glance he actually isn't your typical villian. For example, he helps a father and his daughter to stand their ground against a group of thugs, and furthermore he only seems to kill because he is forced to. We also get to know pretty soon that he actually didn't want to steal the sword, but that he only ended up in this situation because of some unlucky circumstances. Granted, he does look rather ferocious and vicious, which is a fact Heishiro makes fun of in a very well-done grimace performance during a discussion with his friends, still, it's nice to see a villian who is more or less forced into his role and who also asks himself at several points during the film how he ended up in this mess.

Nevertheless, Kazamatsuri is somebody who loves to test his skills in one-on-one combat. Moreover, when he has drawn his sword he is determined to use it for what it has been forged. Heishiro on the other hand is a second-rate samurai, whose temper often gets him into problems. Nonetheless, he is the one who is mostly responsible for the humor in the movie. Especially in the scenes with his two buddies he looks like a child. However, at Mizoguchi's he starts to grow up a bit, maybe also because of the commencing love relationship with Koharu. Yet, he still can't give up his plans for revenge.
The humor of the movie is of a somewhat different nature. There is an aged ninja, who despited his old age still prefers to enter through the ceiling than the door when his master calls for him, because after all that's what you would expect of a ninja. And on other occasions there is made fun of Kazamatsuri's strange sexual preferences. There is always something to laugh about, no doubt about that.

Sometimes there are some scenes that could have been right out from an anime, e.g. Heishiro getting nosebleed when accidentally staring at Koharu's cleavage.
Beyond everything else, the rock/blues-soundtrack is really standing out, strangely fitting into the film amazingly well and once more underlining the mix of Chambara- and modern cinema that "Samurai Fiction" is. The few sword fighting sequences are realistic and without any overdone choreography, at some times you even get the feeling that there was some improvisation involved here, but they nonetheless look quite nice. Blood isn't shed at all. If some of it should actually be spraying around or when someone gets killed in a duel, then the picture takes on red color for a few seconds. It has to be pointed out that the visuals in "Samurai Fiction" are in general one of its strong points, which is even the more outstanding (or maybe just because of it?) as this is just a black-and-white movie.

The actual interesting characters of the movie are Kazamatsuri, who somehow depicts a tragical figure and Mizoguchi who definitely could serve as Heishiro's wise master, yet refuses to take on this role and prefers to continue living a simple but beautiful life in the countryside. Unfortunately, "Samurai Fiction" loses lots of its fast pacing towards the end and doesn't know where to go for a while. That's sad, because even the humor takes a backseat now. Eventually, the movie might get back on its track, but if the film had been shortened for about half an hour, it could have been a lot more compact and entertaining in the end.
Director Hiroyuki Nakano has created an amusing, funny and at times artistically profound little movie, which manages to stay in your memory as an unusual film thanks to its mix of traditional and modern elements, as well as its nice humor.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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