Samurai

47 Ronin (2013)

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The famous Japanese legend is given a supernatural twist in Carl Rinsch’s story. Despite the film being one of the biggest flops of 2013, the film is actually worth seeing.

In the times of feudal Japan, a young teen is found in the forests of Ako. Thought to be a demon, he is revealed to be half-Japanese, half-Caucasian. Lord Asano, the ruler of Ako, offers the boy shelter and takes him in. As the boy, to be known as Kai, grows, he begins to fall for Mika, the daughter of Lord Asano. However, the romance is verboten due to their differences in both class and race.

Years later, Kai assists Asano’s loyal samurai Oishi in a forest where he believes there is trouble awaiting. Lo and behold, a demon arrives and while many of Asano’s men are hurt in the battle, Kai is able to defeat the demon. Kai has pledged his loyalty to both Lord Asano and Oishi yet still has love for Mika. Meanwhile, Lord Asano is given a visit by a rival, Lord Kira and the Shogun. When a competition is to be held by Asano samurai Yasuno and a behemoth member of Kira’s samurai, Yasuno is out of commission. Kai takes Yasuno’s place and brings disgrace to the house of Asano when his cover is blown. Instead of death, he is beaten mercilessly and even more shocking, Asano learns of the love his daughter has for Kai and shuns her as a result.

Lord Kira, hellbent on taking over Japan, relies on a witch to set up Asano for a trap. Using her powers, the witch puts Asano under a spell to think Kira is raping Mika. However, when Asano attacks Kira, Kira is revealed to be alone and as a result, the Shogun decides that instead of execution, he offers Asano to regain honor by seppuku, a ritualistic art of suicide. The Shogun declares Oishi and the rest of the men ronin (masterless samurai). Kai is also banished. However, Oishi is forced into a pit in an attempt to have his will broken. While Kira wants Mika to marry him, the Shogun gives Mika a one-year grievance period before the wedding. The ronin are also forbidden from seeking revenge for their lord.

A year has passed and Oishi is free from the pit Lord Kira had imprisoned him in. However, instead of having his will broken, Oishi has had only one thing in mind: revenge. With help from his son Chikara, Oishi is set to bring the ronin back together and because of his honor, he decides to get Kai, who has been sold to slavery and forced to fight in the pits of a pirate-like area. What Oishi soon learns is that Kai is no ordinary faithful halfbreed.  He has a dark secret, one that could help the ronin get their revenge on Lord Kira and bring honor back to the fallen House of Asano.

The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the most legendary stories to come out of Japan.  The story is that Lord Asano’s house was fallen to the evil Lord Kira. The loyal samurai of Asano were banished and became ronin. Oishi led the ronin to attack Lord Kira in order to regain honor to the house of Asano. Starting out as a kabuki play, it became one of the first jidai-geki (period films) in the 1910’s and 1920’s. There have been many variations of the story brought to films but none like this. Chris Morgan, writer of the last four installments of the Fast and Furious installments (including next year’s number seven), and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay based on an idea by Morgan and Walter Hamada. The idea was to take the legendary story and add a twist involving the supernatural. Interestingly enough, the main legend is still there and the supernatural elements involving witchcraft and demons add a nice touch to the story.

Many are wondering what Keanu Reeves is doing in the film. Well, his central protagonist of Kai was created for this version of the film and he proves to be vital to the overall story. However, it is clear that while he is given top billing, this is definitely Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada’s movie. The veteran Sanada gives out a wonderful performance as the ronin leader Oishi, who overcomes a year of imprisonment with one goal in mind. It is clearly Oishi who is the real leader and star of the film, with Kai as his most trusted ally.

While there are those who will complain that the virtually all Japanese cast speak English, one can only guess is to bring a style similar to those of graphic novels and to attract an international audience, the Japanese cast speak English. However, the ensemble Japanese cast is top-notch in their roles. Tadanobu Asano plays it very sly as the evil Lord Kira while Battle Royale and One Missed Call actress Ko Shibasaki does quite well as Mika, the lovelorn daughter of Asano who is in love with Reeves’ Kai. One can’t help but love Rinko Kikuchi. She is definitely a great talent who gives out one of her best performances here as the evil witch who uses her powers to help Lord Kira achieve his power. She even has a lustful inclination towards Kira, forcing her Mika into some sort of submission with dangerous threats. In his limited screen time, legendary Cary Tagawa makes an impact as the Shogun while one has to give kudos to debut actor Takato Yonemoto in his role of the likable Basho. The former hospital worker and film buff plays one of those characters one would just like to pal around with.

The action scenes are nicely done as well. Where to begin in terms of the hard work the cast pulls off in the frenetic action? Tsuyoshi Abe, a veteran martial artist and stuntman, served as sword master while the collaborating team of Nikki Berwick, Stephen Oyoung, and Zhang Peng served as the film’s fight choreographers. These three are definitely veterans in the stunt field and their hard work pays off here. One can’t help but praise Reeves into the hard work he tends to bring when it comes to action scenes. As if he does well performing unarmed combat in films, he pulls off some handy swordwork with his fellow cast members and the battle sequences get better as the film progresses, leading into a nicely shot final battle sequence.

So the question is if the film is decent, why did it flop? Perhaps bad timing a lack of decent promotion?  Whatever the case is, this reviewer recommends a rental and possible buy for Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin. It is not that bad at all with the supernatural elements adding a nice touch to a legendary story with a stellar ensemble cast. Even more, one cannot underestimate the hard work of Keanu Reeves in terms of performing action. Maybe after all these years, has he finally found his calling? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, definitely rent this film.

WFG RATING: B+

Universal Pictures presents a Mid Atlantic Films/H2F Entertainment/MPC/Stuber Productions film. Director: Carl Rinsch. Producers: Eric McLeod and Pamela Abdy. Writers: Chris Morgan and Hosseini Amini; story by Morgan and Walter Hamada. Cinematography: John Mathieson. Editing: Stuart Baird.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Hiroshi Yamada, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Togo Igawa.

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Gintama (2017)

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The hit manga by Hideaki Sorachi has a live action adaptation and it caters to both fans of the source material as well as newcomers to the title, thanks in part to some over the top antics that work quite well.

Twenty years ago, Edo was invaded by aliens and the government, calling them Amanto, ended up in war with the aliens. However, when the war was over, the Sword Prohibition Act was passed, forbidden all samurai to unleash their swords. As a result, the aliens and humans are now living in peace. One known as the White Demon, former samurai Gintoki Sakata has resorted to being more a lazy bum who does odd jobs with Shinpachi, a one-time budding samurai and heir to a martial arts dojo; and Kagura, an alien girl who has both a strong will and appetite.

Gintoki’s now peaceful life is soon shattered with childhood friend Katsura is killed by a mysterious stranger Nizou Okada, who has possession of a mysterious sword known as the Benizakura. To make matters worse, he learns that Okada is working with Shinsuke Takasugi, who had fought alongside Gintoki and Katsura in the Joui War that led to the Sword Prohibition Act. Now deemed a traitor, Takasugi intends to make his intentions known by unleashing his sword and destroying Edo. With help from the siblings whose dad created the deadly blade, Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura must stop Takasugi, Okada, and their allies to save Edo and make it peaceful again.

Having only recently begun watching the anime based on the hit Shonen Jump manga, this reviewer kind of knows what to expect. Yuichi Fukuda wrote and directed this live-action adaptation that may or may not make fans of the original source material, depending on their taste, but will surely be a delight for newcomers who are curious about Sorachi’s story of a lazy samurai and his friends in an alternate Edo where aliens and humans are apparently living in peace despite the normalcy of crime and everyday life.

The cast of the film are great to watch. Shun Oguri brings the character of Gintoki Sakata to life and does so with some hilarious antics. This especially is prevalent in a hilarious “opening credit” sequence where only his name appears and it appears he is singing from a karaoke song only to be interrupted by a cartoon version of Shinpachi and Kagura. While Oguri handles the action quite well, he proves with his role here that he has a flair for comedy and brings it full speed ahead in the role.

When it comes to live-action manga and anime, no one has recently done it like Masaki Suda. The former one-half of Kamen Rider W had been known for his role as Karma Akabane in the Assassination Classroom series but goes a full 180 with his role of the very timid yet determined Shinpachi. Suda has that comical flair necessary to make a role such as Shinpachi work. From his surprised expressions to getting knocked in the face in super slow motion by ally Kagura and with an emotional range, Suda is truly stands out in the film while his Assassination Classroom cohort Kanna Hashimoto, who played the automated Ritsu in the two films, here plays the alien Kagura and from what was seen so far in the anime, pretty well and faithful.

While the trio of Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura make up the driving force of the film, the supporting cast is quite fun to watch. Notably the introduction of the bumbling police Chief Isao Kondo, played hilariously by Kankuro Nakamura, who appears in just his underwear covered in honey. Kondo has a major crush on Shinpachi’s sister and gets his comeuppances on a few occasions when she shows no interest in him. This includes hitting him with a baseball bat and it becomes a home run. The duo of Ryo Yoshizawa and Yuya Yagira play Okita and Hijikata, members of the Shinseigumi, a police force, who seem to dislike Gintoki but when they are faced with the common enemy, find themselves teaming up with him. And yet, these two are not exactly the smartest duo either. They are almost but not quote on Kondo’s level. Ken Yasuda also brings some comic relief with his overpowering performance (and that’s voice-wise) as Tetsuya Murata, whose father created the Benizakura blade with Akari Hayami complementing Tetsuya’s shouting as the more reserved Tetsuko Murata.

Hirofumi Arai brings the character of Nizo Okada as a deadly warrior who is fused with the very deadly blade that Gintoki must track down. Arai emulates a sort of Zatoichi-like performance with assistance from Jiro Sato’s self-proclaimed “feminist” Henpeita Takeuchi and Nanao’s gun-slinging Matako Kijima. However, the real villain is that of Takasuki Shinsuke, played by Tsuyoshi Domoto, which brings the sometimes clichéd “best friend turned enemy” portion of the action genre but Domoto gives such a harrowing performance that it stands out quite well here.

There are plenty of comic gags, from slow motion hits to the “kabuto beetle chase” scene and even references to other popular anime and manga that stand out in the film and for some reason, it works. The swordfighting action is quite fun to watch as well as Oguri’s opening scene where he resorts to using unarmed martial arts against two annoying cat-human hybrid aliens who purposely harass Shinpachi in a “prologue” sequence. For the most part, the CGI is quite good, that is until when we see Okada in true fusion form as this is where the CGI looks a bit sub-par. It does reach borderline ridiculous, but the fact that this is an action-comedy of this element, it can be somewhat forgiven.

With room left for a sequel, apparently due this coming summer, whether or not you’ve seen the anime or read the manga, if you want a good fun Japanese action-comedy, then Gintama is recommended. The cast is great, taking elements from two arcs, and some mostly good CGI and some good action in the mix of the comic elements.

WFG RATING: A-

Warner Bros. Japan presents a Plus D production. Director: Yuichi Fukuda. Producers: Shinzo Matsuhashi and Susumu Hida. Writer: Yuichi Fukuda; based on the Weekly Shonen Jump manga by Hideaki Sorachi. Cinematography: Tetsuya Kudo and Yasuyuki Suzuki. Editing: Jun Kuriyagawa.

Cast: Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Masaki Okada, Yuya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Ken Yasuda, Akari Hayami, Masami Nagasawa, Hirofumi Arai, Jiro Sato, Nanao, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kankuro Nakamura, Tsuyoshi Domoto, Seika Furuhata, Seiji Rokkaku.

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

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The 100th film from the prolific Takashi Miike is a well-made adaptation of a Japanese manga and anime that definitely churns out some excellent performances.

Manji is a samurai warrior who protects his sister Machi after a job has gone awry. When he is confronted by a band of bounty hunters, Machi is killed in front of Manji, who relentlessly kills all of the hunters, mortally wounding himself in the process. There, he meets a mysterious nun named Yaobikuni, who gives him the power of immortality by giving him Tibetan bloodworms, which allow Manji to heal and serve penance for his past sins.

Fifty years has passed. Asano, the master of a martial arts school is viciously killed by Anotsu Kagehisa, the leader of the Itto-Ryu School. The Itto-Ryu plans to dominate Edo under their iron blades. Asano’s daughter Rin spends the next two years training herself to seek revenge, but when she meets Yaobikuni, the nun suggests that Rin sees Manji and asks him to be her bodyguard. Learning of his immortality, she makes the offers but at first Manji refuses, until he realizes that Rin is the spitting image of Machi. Manji not only offers to help Rin in her quest for revenge, but also train her so she can not only seek revenge but become a better warrior herself.

Takashi Miike may be known for his more controversial films in the West, but he is one who can tackle any genre and execute it quite well. This adaptation of the Hiroaki Samura manga marks Miike’s 100th film and it is a heck of a great film. Despite some very minor flaws in Tetsuya Oishi’s script, and they are very minor that they are pretty much forgettable, the film’s pacing at 142 minutes runs quite smoothly, allowing character development that brings out some great performances.

Takuya Kimura, perhaps the most famous member of legendary boyband SMAP (which disbanded in 2016), may have found the role that will break his babyface image as he excellently plays lead character Manji. The role allows him to display raging emotions and even invoke a hatred for being immortal as he sees it more of a punishment rather than a blessing. Hana Sugisaka provides an innocent performance first as Manji’s sister Machi in the black-and-white filled opening then as Rin, a young girl seeking revenge but still conveys that innocence that reminds Manji of his late sister. The chemistry between the two as Manji and Rin brings a sense of “big brother, little sister” as well as “teacher and student” to the point where it becomes more the former than latter. The scenes involving Manji’s healing look painful as if it it was actually real and allows Kimura to emulate that pain of being immortal both from inside and out.

Normally in these types of films, many of the villains seem just throwaway characters and are for the most part, one-dimensional. This film breaks the archetype as some of the villains depicted in the film are able to bring emotion in their roles. Sôta Fukushi’s Anotsu Kagehisa may seem like a one-dimensional character in his quest to become the number one swordsman in Edo by killing all rivals. However, when the reasoning behind his quest is revealed, it may become a bit jaw-dropping and one can see Anotsu not so much a villain but more of a tortured soul driven by hate and a lust for power.

Erika Toda’s Makie Otonotachibana is a prostitute who is also a deadly warrior who gets to shine not only with her action skill set, but her emotional rage as it is revealed that Makie is bipolar. Once she feels she has unleashed her fury, she suddenly breaks down in grief, feeling sorry for her potential victim. Ebizô Ichikawa’s Eiku Shimizu provides quite a surprise villain as he brings out a revelation about himself that will not only shock Manji but even the audience.

The swordfight choreography by Keiji Tsujii and Masayoshi Deguchi brings a more traditional style of chanbara-play when compared to the blistering choreography of Kenji Tanigaki in the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. However, with Miike’s flair for violence, one would expect geysers of blood and an overabundance of blood spurting. However, Miike decided to shy away from using the over the top blood-splattering and settle for a more straightforward style of having limbs chopped off and slashings. The script carefully allows Maji to have a series of one-on-one battles followed by a three-on-one and an epic climatic fight that is just quite outstanding.

Blade of the Immortal has very few minor flaws that the viewer will get past quickly and enjoy the journey of an immortal warrior on a quest to help seek revenge for a young girl. Excellent performances from the cast and Takashi Miike taking a more subtle approach to the violence rather than going overboard with the blood truly make his 100th film a definite watch!

WFG RATING: A

Hanway Films presents a Warner Bros. Pictures Japan production. Director: Takashi Miike. Producers: Jeremy Thomas, Shigeji Maeda, and Misako Saka. Writer: Tetsuya Oishi; based on the manga by Hiroaki Samura. Cinematography: Nobuyasu Kita. Editing: Kenji Yamashita.

Cast: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Erika Toda, Yoko Yamamoto, Hayate Ichihara, Ebizô Ichikawa, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Ibane.

Harakiri (1962)

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Director Masaki Kobayashi helms this classic samurai eiga that, like his Japanese counterpart Akira Kurosawa, features exciting camera techniques that would influence later martial arts films. In addition, an exciting storyline and twist leads to a classic samurai film.

It is May 13th, 1630. At the manor of Lord Iyi, a bewildered-looking samurai appears at the manor. His name is Hanshiro Tsugumo. He has suffered since the fall of his former master, Fukushima. With no job and living in poverty, Tsugomo has only one intention in the manor of Lord Iyi. It is to sacrifice himself and die like a samurai by committing harakiri, the art of ritual suicide. While Lord Iyi himself is away, counselor Kageyu Saito decides to grant Tsugumo’s wish.

Before he decides to sacrifice himself in front of the house of Lord Iyi, Tsugumo tells a story of another Fukushima clan ronin, Motome Chijiwa. Five months prior, Chijiwa went to the manor of Lord Iyi to commit harakiri. However, Chijiwa’s plan was only a ruse for money when it is revealed that his blades were replaced with bamboo blades. Chijiwa was forced to commit the ritual using the bamboo blades he brought to the house. Tsugumo soon reveals that Chijiwa was in fact, his son-in-law and from there, Tsugumo tells the story of the incidents that lead up to this very day.

Classic Japanese cinema has had its share of auteurs, including popular dramatic filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu and the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Harakiri practically puts Masaki Kobayashi on the international map. One can see the Kurosawa-esque influence in this film, which revolves around a samurai who wishes to commit harakiri (sometimes known as seppuku) in the house of a popular lord in Edo. What is very interesting is that the film uses techniques that would later influence many martial arts films, notably the wuxia pian and classic kung fu cinema of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

Veteran Tatsuya Nakadai churns out a terrific performance as the potentially tragic hero Hanshiro Tsugomu. From the beginning, very little is known about Tsugomu. However, as the film progresses, we learn not only more about his ways as a ronin, but he lives life as a family man. The film crosses present day well with flashbacks that begin with Tsugomu’s life as a ronin and a sworn promise to take care of his friend’s son, Motome Chijiwa, whose actions trigger this entire film. The film showcases Tsugomu as a regular family man after the fall of his clan, attempting to marry Motome to his daughter Miho, well played by Shima Iwashita to the incident that leads Motome into forced harakiri.

It is when Tsugumo reveals his true intentions, this is where the action begins. He tracks down the three men responsible for Motome’s forced harakiri and as he tracks down each one, the amount of action grows until he finds himself in a field in a nicely choreographed samurai duel between himself and Omodoka, played by veteran Tetsuro Tamba. The final act, in which Tsugumo takes on practically the entire Iyi manor, brings reminiscence of tragic heroes like wuxia pian star Jimmy Wang Yu and perhaps classic kung fu actor Alexander Fu Sheng. Despite being a black and white film, there is some graphic violence that would be perhaps be an influence to the late great Chang Cheh, who used this brand of violence in his films.

Harakiri may start out somewhat slow. However, once the plot twists are revealed, one can only be satisfied with the tragic character of Hanshiro Tsugumo, who goes from loyal samurai to regular man to an avenger of sorts. A true Japanese samurai eiga classic!

WFG RATING: A

A Shochiku Production. Director: Masaki Kobayashi. Producer: Tatsuo Hosoya. Writer: Shinobu Hashimoto; based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi. Cinematography: Yoshio Miyajima. Editing: Hisashi Sagara.

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita, Tetsuro Tanba, Masao Mishima, Ichiro Nakatani, Kei Sato, Yoshio Inaba, Hisashi Igawa, Toru Takeuchi, Yoshiro Aoki, Tatsuo Matsumura, Akiji Kobayashi.

“Samurai” Legend to Become a Film

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Yasuke (center), the African-born samurai, in a stock photo from AfricaPublic.com

The true story of an African-born samurai warrior in the 16th century is coming to life in a new movie.

Gregory Widen, the creator of the sci-fi warrior legacy known as Highlander, will be writing a script for Lionsgate and Michael DeLuca, who will be producing the film with Stephen L’Heureux.

The samurai in question is named Yasuke, a young man of African descent who was a former slave who worked with an Italian missionary. During a trip to Japan, he met with the legendary feudal lord Nobunaga Oda, who at the time wanted to learn about Western culture. Under Oda, Yasuke would learn the art of bushido and rise through the ranks to become the only African-born samurai during Oda’s reign.

The film, tentatively titled Black Samurai, is currently in development for Lionsgate Films. More as this develops.

H/T: Dark Horizons

 

Death Force (1978)

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1978, Cosa Nueva

Director:
Cirio H. Santiago
Producer:
Robert E. Waters
Writers:
Cirio H. Santiago (story)
Robert E. Waters (story)
Howard R. Cohen (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Ricardo Remias
Editing:
Gervacio Santos
Robert E. Waters

Cast:
James Iglehart (Doug Russell)
Carmen Argenziano (Morelli)
Leon Isaac Kennedy (McGee)
Vic Diaz (Crime Boss)
Joe Mari Avellana (Japanese Soldier)
Joonee Gamboa (Japanese Soldier)
Jayne Kennedy (Karen Russell)

The tagline for this action film involves former couple Leon Isaac Kennedy and Jayne Kennedy in key roles. However, the promotion is a bit misleading.

Doug Russell is a former Vietnam veteran who goes to the Philippines with two of his friends from his war days, Morelli and McGee. They steal a gold cache for a local crime lord, who pays the trio nicely for their effort before they head back home. Morelli plans to rise up in the underworld upon returning to Los Angeles and wants McGee to join him. However, to do so, they betray Russell by stabbing him, slashing his throat and sending him overboard.

Russell is washed up ashore on an island where he is rescued by two Japanese soldiers who have been living there since World War II. They nurse him back to health and teach him both karate and the ways of bushido. As he trains, back in L.A., Morelli and McGee have made their way to become the top underworld bosses. McGee has eyes for Karen, Russell’s wife and closes in on her. What will happen when Russell makes his way back to Los Angeles and goes to both find his family and avenge his betrayal?

This film was re-released in 1982 as Fighting Mad to capitalize on the success of former couple Leon Isaac and Jayne Kennedy. Leon Isaac had become well-known in 1979 for his role of “Too Sweet” Gordon in Jamaa Fanaka’s Penitentiary films while Jayne Kennedy had a successful spread in Playboy magazine. However, while they play very pivotal roles in the film, Leon Isaac Kennedy is not the actual star of the film yet he does play a charismatic scumbag of a villain while Jayne plays the typical damsel in distress.

The film’s real star is James Iglehart, who starred in the 1974 Filipino-made action film Bamboo Gods and Iron Men. Iglehart does quite well in this film. Many will see him as a Blaxploitation action star because he does fit the mold. While the first half of the film sees him as someone who just wants to get the job done so he can go home to his family, the second half turns him into a very angry man who while caring for his family, also wants revenge on his former war brothers. Bloodfist star Joe Mari Avellana is great as Russell’s martial arts teacher while Joonie Gamboa brings a little comic relief as the other soldier, who constantly bickers with Avellana as if they were still in the War. As the scheming Morelli, Carmen Argenziano does quite well yet at the same time, one is just waiting for him to get his.

Now, the surprising factor comes in the form of the film’s action. Normally, with a mix of 1970’s Blaxploitation and Filipino action, one would expect a slow pace in the fight scenes. However, in this film, it is the opposite. The action scenes are very fast-paced and nicely edited. The first training scene where Avellana uses a bamboo kendo stick against Iglehart is maginificent for its era. This is just a tip of the iceberg as while some of the stunt guys don’t seem up to par with Iglehart, a standout scene takes place in a martial arts school. The master of the dojo is quite a martial artist and shows a nice array of hand work and some decent kicks and Iglehart himself isn’t bad in the fight department, showcasing moves that are reminiscent of Fred Williamson. When Iglehart dispenses “samurai justice” on the bad guys as well, it is apparent that Iglehart did his training. While the stunt coordinator is uncredited, one can guess that possibly someone like Fred Esplana or Ronald Asinas could have done the stunt coordination. Whoever it was, kudos for making this a very watchable action film.

A bit of quick trivia: The Russells’ son is played by current TV actor James Monroe Iglehart, the son of our hero James Iglehart himself, making his film debut.

Death Force is an underrated mix of Blaxploitation and Filipino action thriller. James Iglehart makes for a bankable action hero of that era while future “Too Sweet” himself, Leon Isaac Kennedy, does well as the charismatic villain of the piece. Definitely worth a rental and for hardcore cult film fans, a worthy purchase.

WFG RATING: B-

DVD

Kimura Unleashes the Fury in “Blade” Trailer

For former boybander Takuya Kimura, it is all about unleashing some hellacious fury in the new trailer for Blade of the Immortal.

Based on Hiroaki Samura‘s manga and anime, Kimura plays Manji, a cursed samurai warrior who due to his criminal activities, becomes immortal. To give himself penance, he makes a vow to kill 1000 evil men and until he does so, he will be kept alive by the “sacred bloodworms”. The trailer does show Kimura having to take on 300 at once!

The film co-stars Hana Sugisaka, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, and Chiaki Kuriyama. Takashi Miike directed the film, which will be released in Japan on April 29 from Warner Bros.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)

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The saga based on Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga and the anime comes to an end in this exciting final installment that features both character-driven performances and perhaps the best action of the entire trilogy.

Picking up where Kyoto Inferno ends, Kenshin Himura has awaken in the home of Seijuro Hiko, the samurai who taught him the art of swordfighting. It has been fifteen years since Hiko and Kenshin have seen each other. Kenshin tells Hiko of his arch-nemesis, Makoto Shishio, who plots to overthrow the government and take over Tokyo. Kenshin asks Hiko to teach him the “ultimate technique” of the High Heaven style in order to defeat Shishio. However, the young former assassin must go through a series of battles with his teacher to learn the technique.

Meanwhile, as Shishio plots his takeover, Kaoru Kimiya has been found and is resting at the Aoiya Inn. Relieved to hear that Kaoru is alive are her trusted friends Sojiro Seta and Yahiko Myojin. The government, after a failed attempt to negotiate with Shishio, decide to side with the tyrant to find Kenshin and publicly execute him. While former samurai turned government official Hajime Saito is unhappy with this, he is shocked to learn that the government actually plan to lure Kenshin as a scapegoat due to the fact they think he may be the only one capable of defeating Shishio.

When the original Rurouni Kenshin was released, it was one of the biggest hits in Japan and then came the first half of the two-part saga featuring the villainous Makoto Shishio, played by Battle Royale and Death Note franchise star Tatsuya Fujiwara. Kyoto Inferno was a nice set up to this installment, which is truly exciting to watch. From the very first scene, a flashback where we learn the history of young Kenshin to the blistering finale, there are truly many reasons why this is the best of the trilogy.

The cast of characters may have done quite well in the last two, but here, they amp up their performances. Especially Takeru Satoh as Kenshin, who has become more driven and determined to stop Shishio, but asks himself if he is willing to sacrifice himself and for what in the process. As Shishio, Fujiwara is more tyrannical here than in the last film. Perhaps it is because once we know his real plan, he exerts that plan with such greatness and force, he would make even the best of comic book villains proud. Major kudos must go to pop star Masaharu Fukuyama, who plays Kenshin’s mentor Seijuro Hiko. His performance is sheer excitement and determination. As a mentor, he ranks up there high and should deserve some sort of accolade.

Ryunosuke Hamiki brings out his top of the game as Sojiro, who shows sort of a soft side to his tough exterior due to his worry about Kenshin and Kaoru. Even though his screen time is minimal yet crucial, Yosuke Eguchi still gives it his all as Hajime Saito. The only flaws here are the very minimal performances of Emi Takei as female lead Kaoru Kamiya, who spends the first half of the film recuperating and in the second half not really doing much; and Yu Aoi as doctor Megumi Takani, who just is there for virtually one scene.

Once again, Kenji Tanigaki took charge of the film’s action scenes and there are more action scenes here than its predecessor. The action scenes are some of his best work let alone the best action of the trilogy. From Kenshin and Hiko’s “test” battles to the insane finale that starts on the beach and ends with the long-awaited duel between Kenshin and Shishio, it is just exciting to see Tanigaki amp up the action. In the fight between Kenshin and another samurai determined to kill him, Kenshin is able to pull off a wicked evade flip move that looks to be influenced by the likes of the late Panna Rittikrai and his team. Whether this was done by a stunt double or was even wire-assisted is hard to determine thanks to some amazing tight editing that enhances and makes the action here altogether worth seeing.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends is a near-perfect finale of the trilogy. Despite a few flaws here and there, the performances of Takeru Satoh, Tatsuya Fujiwara, and Masaharu Fukuyama as well as the action scenes make this film a definitive purchase for your collection along with the other films of the trilogy.

WFG RATING: A

A Warner Brothers Japan Production. Director: Keishi Ohtomo. Producer: Satoshi Fukishima. Writers: Kiyomi Fujii and Keishi Ohtomo; based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Cinematography: Takuro Ishizaka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Yusuke Iseya, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tao Tsuchiya, Min Tanaka, Masaharu Fukuyama, Kaito Ohyagi

 

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)

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2014, Warner Brothers Japan

 

The legend of Kenshin Himura, the red-haired ex-samurai continues with the beginning of a two-part saga that takes one of the manga and anime’s most famous storylines.

Having brought peace to the local village, Kenshin Himura is now living a simple life. Once known as the assassin known as “Battosai”, Kenshin made a promise to his love Kaoru never to kill again. However, trouble is beginning to brew and the new government, led by Lord Okubo, needs Kenshin’s help to solve the problem that has now plagued the government as well as could be the biggest threat to Japan as a whole.

Makoto Shishio was like Kenshin back in the day. He was an assassin only more ruthless. After a battle, he was betrayed by his comrades, left for dead and burnt to a crisp. However, the growing snow had made Shishio survive. Now a mummy-like warrior who still believes in the old ways, he has one thing in mind: turning Kyoto into a blazing inferno. After Okubo is viciously murdered by Shishio’s men, Kenshin decides to head to Kyoto in order to stop Shishio despite Kaoru’s efforts for him not to go.

At a running time of 138 minutes, the film does quite well for the most part making good use of its running time. Many of the original cast members return for this installment and again, Takeru Satoh is the driving force of the film as Kenshin, the former Battosai. However, it must be duly noted that Tatsuya Fujiwara truly proves himself as one of Japan’s finest young talents in the role of the deadly Makoto Shishio. Unrecognizable with the exception of a flashback sequence, Fujiwara steals the show as the maniacal Shishio, who is hellbent on turning Kyoto into a blazing inferno as well as seeing If Kenshin will go back on his word.

There are a few subplots that take up most of the second act of the film. They include Kenshin meeting another central character, Misao Mikamachi, played by Tao Tsuchiya and befriending her after she tries to steal his sword as well as Misao’s crush, a warrior named Aoshi Shinomori, played by Yusuke Iseya. Aoshi has been after Kenshin for a long time and will do whatever it takes to find and challenge him to a duel. However, the main subplot involves Kenshin on the hunt for a new sword after an altercation with Shishio’s henchman Sojiro, played by Ryunosuke Kamimi, results in his “back-blade” sword being broken.

As with the original film, Kenji Tanigaki takes over in the action department and what is great is that here, the action scenes come sporadically and complement the more dramatic portions quite well. While most of the cast resort to using swords and other bladed weapons, Tao Tsuchiya shows unarmed combat as Misao and she is a pretty nice kicker. As for Fujiwara, he truly brings ruthlessness in his few action scenes and one can’t help but have to appreciate seeing Yosuke Eguchi preparing for battle with cigarette in mouth before he unleashes his sword skills. There is some comic relief in the action on the part of Sanosuke, played by Munetaka Aoki. He may be big and strong, but he is a knucklehead at times and one scene in the climactic battle proves that.

However, it is important to note that the film ends on a cliffhanger as the final part, The Legend Ends, will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray next month after a successful theatrical run in September in Japan.

However, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a wonderfully timed set-up to what is sure to be an exciting saga. Highly recommended for those who loved the original movie.

WFG RATING: A+

A Warner Brothers Japan Production. Director: Keishi Ohtomo. Producer: Satoshi Fukishima. Writers: Kiyomi Fujii and Keishi Ohtomo; based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Cinematography: Takuro Ishizaka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Yusuke Iseya, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tao Tsuchiya, Min Tanaka, Masaharu Fukuyama, Kaito Ohyagi

 

Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

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The Japanese samurai manga and anime comes to live in this amazingly-shot action-drama about a man’s search for redemption in a new era.

In 1868, the Edo period of Japan is coming to a close. During the last battle of the Boshin War, the Shinseigumi, led by Hajime Saito, find a top notch assassin known as the Battosai. However, the rebels prove to be too much and the war has come to an end. Convinced that a new era is dawning, the Battosai puts down his sword and vows never to kill again.

Ten years later, during the Meiji Restoration, a wandering swordsman named Kenshin Himura arrives in town. Carrying a reverse-bladed sword, he doesn’t want any trouble with anyone. While the code of the samurai is forbidden, he still lives by the code as does Hajime Saito, who has now become a top government agent. Saito begins to have problems with local warlord Kanryu Takeda. Kanryu wants to take over a local martial arts school run by Kaoru Kamiya so he can create an opium factory.

Kanryu’s ace in the hole is young girl Megumi Takani, who knows the formula for making the best opium in town. However, she dislikes Kanryu and decides to escape. Meanwhile, when Kaoru is harrassed by a band of goons, Kenshin comes to the rescue. When Kenshin is arrested for his bravery, Hajime recognizes him. Kenshin is the one-time Battosai, having gave up killing for a more righteous path. Kanryu has hired a fake Battosai to cause trouble and spread fear in town. When his new friends feel the threat of Kanryu and his men, will Kenshin gain the strength to do what’s right and revert back to his ways as a samurai to stop the evil threat?

Based on the original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, the story of the star-shaped scarred ex-samurai did very well in anime form. When the live-action adaptation was announced, there had been some worry as it seems as of late, anime/manga and video games are the sources of some pretty bad live-action films. However, director and co-writer Keishi Ohtomo has done his homework and the film is truly a great film adaptation, with a nicely paced 135 minutes.

Takeru Satoh, who starred in Kamen Rider Den-O and is one of the spokespeople for Lotte Fit’s gum, pulls off the lead role of Kenshin Himura nicely. Not only does he sport the look to a tee, but he actually proves he can pull off the action sequences quite nicely. As for female lead role Kaoru Kimiya, Emi Takei plays it well as the young female wannabe samurai who despite knowing Kenshin’s past, befriends him due to his righteousness. Yosuke Eguchi also essays his role of ex-samurai turned officer Hajime Saito well, showing that even though it is a new age, he still evokes that samurai spirit in him as does Kenshin, who may not kill anymore, but uses his skills for the good of mankind.

The only flaw in the whole film is the one-dimensional performance of Teruyuki Kagawa as lead villain Kanryu Takeda. Yes, Kanryu is somewhat of a drug dealer and pusher. He even can be considered a slave master as he has former ronin and samurai working under meager conditions at his ranch. Furthermore, he plans to make a drug-production plant out of Kaoru’s martial arts school. The only problem with the role is that Kagawa spends the film mostly mugging and screaming for the camera. When things do not go his way, he tends to act somewhat, like a cry baby.

The action sequences are truly a delight to watch. The stunt team definitely deserve their praise for pulling off some amazing swordplay mixed with the right amount of wirework necessary. In one scene, a bare-handed Kenshin takes on a group of thugs harrassing Kaoru and members of her school. This all becomes the catalyst for what Kenshin realizes what he is destined for.

If you have been disappointed with live-action adaptations of anime or manga, then consider Rurouni Kenshin the savior of the live action anime. Takeru Satoh does a great job in the central role and despite a one-dimensional villain, this is still an enjoyable action-drama.

WFG RATING: A-

A Warner Brothers Japan Production. Director: Keishi Ohtomo. Producer: Shinzo Matsuhashi. Writers: Kiyomi Fujii and Keishi Ohtomo; based on the original manga by Nobuhiko Watsuki. Cinematography: Takuro Ishizaka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Masataka Kubota, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Eiji Okuda, Taketo Tanaka, Koji Kikkawa.