March 15, 2006

SF Episode One - SAMURAI FICTION (1998) - DVD Review

SF Episode One - SAMURAI FICTION (1998, Japan)
Korean DVD (NTSC, All Region, Garam Net)

Charming, funky, homage to old-school samurai films - from the director of RED SHADOW

Impressive for its wealth of memorable characters, Samurai Fiction is an ideal companion to Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi remake, with its fresh and humorous approach. While it's essentially a traditional tale of samurai honour, SF appeals with its progressive ideals, modern soundtrack, and young cast.

This film shows the director's enthusiasm for the samurai movie genre. He based his Stereo Future (2001) around the making of a fictional samurai movie. In the same year, he made the big budget, techno-scored, remake of Red Shadow (or Akakage), which is in the same vein of comedy, action and drama - highly recommended.

Story-wise, SF tells of a headstrong but inexperienced samurai, Heishiro, trying to retrieve his clans' ceremonial sword from a renegade swordsman, Kazamatsuri. When Heishiro is injured in a duel, Hanbei, a local retired swordsman, tries to persuade him to take a different approach from revenge.

While the story is essentially a drama, the cast is made up of expert comedians who make the most of their characters. Heishiro is a fairly good swordsman, but completely inexperienced with women. His long-suffering father, trying to cover up the sword's disappearence, relies on an ageing ninja bodyguard, who refuses to use doors through force of habit (the wobbly ninja is a gag that the director will use again in Red Shadow). Cocky renegade Kazamatsuri disrespects one gang of attacking samurai turning his back on them and taking a leak, a long leak.

Heishiro is impressively played by Mitsuru Fukikoshi, who later played other samurai roles in Red Shadow, and the deadly serious Twilight Samurai. He also played the geeky boyfriend in the superb kaiju movie Gamera 2 - Attack of Legion.

The baddie, Kazamatsuri, is famously played by Tomoyasu Hotei, who also composed the soundtrack. Later, the storming track "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" would make his music internationally famous when it was used in Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol 1. He briefly reprised his samurai character in Red Shadow.

Morio Kazama deserves a special mention as the level-headed Hanbei, and also Tamaki Ogawa as his radiantly cute daughter.

As a homage to old samurai films, SF stays mostly in black and white, but the little flashes of colour gives away the fact that this must have been shot in colour, then desaturated. This means that some scenes lack the contrast of actual black-and-white film stock. Also, the glimpses of colour make you wonder what the film could have looked like.

Apart from that, SF - Samurai Fiction instantly became one of my favourite Japanese films.

It's well-represented on the Korean DVD (pictured above) on the Garam Net label. The english subtitles are well-translated, inobtrusive and removiable. The aspect ratio is anamorphic and there's a 5.1 Japanese mix option. There's also a trailer and some ageing ninja outtakes.


1 comment:

  1. This HAS TO BE the best samurai movie ever! Tomoyasu Hotei is excellent in this movie!