Story: Nomi Kanjuro (Takaaki Nomi) is wandering the land for years already since he is wanted by officials. He has abandoned his post at his
lord's side after his wife died and thus dishonered himself as a samurai. Together with his little daughter Tae (Sea Kumada) he now has to get by,
always having in the back of his mind that headhunters are on his trail. Furthermore, he doesn't even have a sword to defend himself. There is merely a scabbard
he holds onto. One day he is eventually taken prisoner by officials. The feudal lord is having declared the sentence that Kanjuro has 30 days to make his
son, who hasn't shown any sign of emotion since the death of his mother, laugh, in case of failure he has to carry out seppuku. Every day the dishonored
samurai has one chance and the first attempts show that there is little hope for him to succeed. However, his prison guards Kuranosuke (Itsuji Itao)
and Heikichi (Tokio Emoto) constantly come up with new ideas. After Kanjuro's daughter is forging on new ideas as well Kanjuro soon has the people behind
him with his merrymaking. Only the son of the feudal lord still seems to be unwilling to laugh...
Review: There are numerous movies about the way of the samurai and even nowadays the genre hasn't lost anything of its appeal. Probably
because the bushido has established certain virtues that partly still have validity in Japanese society these days. Sometimes it's just the sword
fights of those movies that have a pleasant entertainment value. "Scabbard Samurai" breaks away from all that, without stopping to be a chambara movie in
its core. In any case there is no doubt that you haven't seen a movie like this before. A comedy that at times also wants to be taken very serious portraying
an unusual hero whose bad ideas of how to make the son of the feudal lord laugh always cause laughter with the viewer when he least expects it.
At first everything still looks like your standard chambara movie. Only Kanjuro looks a bit down-and-out. However, when one after another the headhunters
turn up and without avail try to knock off the samurai it becomes clear that we have a very unique comedy in front of us. Kanjuro doesn't fight, he runs.
If there is one thing he has, it's luck. He survives a knife attack from behind, a gun shot to the head and I don't even want to start with the failed
attempt of an assassin to break his neck. When the samurai is then taken into custody the actual abstruseness ride just starts. Kanjuro's survival
depends on him being able to make the feudal lord's son laugh. A task no one before him managed to succeed in and thus equals a death sentence. And
he doesn't have a true talent for comedy either. But on the other hand that's just what makes him so funny.
Actor Takaaki Nomi delivers a very odd portrayal of the samurai. He is a bit older, yet in good enough shape for many of the very physically demanding
jokes. During some of them you are even asking yourself "What's happening right now?", that's just how abstruse all of this is. Be it a noodle
that he sucks up his nose, a squid he wrestles against or a sumo fight in which he faces himself. The whole affair is at times presented to us with so
much seriousness that you surprisingly enough can't help but laugh. The well-achieved dead-pan humor especially shows in the fact that we only get to
see the preparations to some of the demonstrations followed right up by a shot of the feudal lord's house and the sounding of the constantly aggressive,
loud voice of the lord's subordinate who announces that the death sentence is still in effect.
Apart from the humor, which isn't funny when it is supposed to be for the audience in the movie but always when you least expect it, there is also the story that excites. It centers around the samurai and is told between the lines. The scabbard that Kanjuro always carries around with him and which gives the movie its title, serves as a metaphor. His daughter explains that its meaning is that her father doesn't have to fight with a sword in order to remain a samurai. But then again it's her who in the beginning needs to encourage her father to put more effort into his demonstrations. Eventually, the prison guards are adjusting to the task as well and thus the viewer grows fond of them, too. Here, especially the strength of the supporting cast shows through since Kanjuro himself deliberately remains a mystery. It has to be noted, though, that the demonstrations become repititive and sometimes you have to fear that the film might steer nowhere.
Nomi Kanjuro is a blank sheet, he almost doesn't talk, his daughter talks back to him all the time and takes on the role of his wife who has to reprimand her husband in order for him to do anything at all. The samurai thus seems to be dead within. And so the scabbard is also a metaphor for his life. After the death of his wife there is only emptiness he feels. What's significant is that he himself left his sword behind. However, his life, his scabbard, he couldn't leave behind. The subtly told story is also carried by the necessary amount of emotions towards the end and therefore director Hitoshi Matsumoto ("Big Man Japan") unfolds a wonderful and astonishingly subtle movie against the background of a dead-pan comedy, which just carries its heart at the right place.