Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: Samurai Spy

The Japanese movie Samurai Spy (異聞猿飛佐助 Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke [1]) is actually about many spies. The movie takes place during a simmering rivalry between the ascending Tokugawa Shogunate [2] and the recently deposed Toyotomi clan. Both clans have infiltrated each other with spies. Thus both clans are overwhelmed with paranoia. Who can be trusted? Who is an impostor? What is the other clan planning? Given that the film was released in 1965, during rising tensions between the USA and the USSR, there's probably some allegory to be had here.

My verdict: A few shots were poorly framed, which made those parts of the movie hard to follow. But in general I was really impressed with the camerawork and found it to be quite innovative—especially considering that this film was shot in the early 1960s when the French New Wave was wreaking havoc on Western cinema. I really liked this movie. Unfortunately there is a scene where several characters (who may or may not have been spies—I'm not going to say) are relaxing in a hot spring when the camera briefly pans past a topless woman. Other than that, though, there is no profanity and violence is limited to swordplay, which is occasionally bloody.[3]


[1] Literally "The Strange Story of Sarutobi Sasuke". For an interesting analysis of the film and its relationship to other chanbara (チャンバラ, literally "sword fighting") films, read here.

[2] A shōgun (将軍, meaning "general") was any military dictator of Japan between AD 1192 and 1867. They were appointed by the Japanese emperor and the position was usually a hereditary one, but they were the de facto rulers of Japan during that time period. This particular film is set after the events depicted in James Clavell's novel Shōgun.

[3] Even when blood is depicted it's less shocking in black and white (which this film is) than it is in color.

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