Thursday, May 5, 2016

Samurai Resurrection / Makai tenshô (Japan, 2003)

What came first, the chicken or the egg? When we finally meet our Great Creator, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, that is a question we plan to ask.
In the case of Samurai Resurrection, however, what came first is easier to figure out. This live-action film here came after the once-popular video game Samurai Showdown, which shares both characters and plot points, but before both there was the original film version of Makai tenshô from 1981 (trailer), a semi-cult film that still enjoys mild popularity, and somewhere amidst them all there was the animi two-parter, Ninja Resurrection (1997 / trailer). All, however, are inspired or based on the 1967 historical novel Makai tenshô by Futaro Yamada (4 Jan 1922 — 28 July 2001), which, in turn, was inspired by the Shimbara Rebellion (17 Dec 1637 — 15 April 1638), in which over 37,000 Japanese Christians lost their life, and the last words of the subsequently beheaded 16-year-old leader of the rebellion, Amakusa Shirō, who supposedly claimed "I shall return after 100 years and take my revenge."
And that is what he does in Samurai Resurrection, returning as a revenge-driven ghost who has turned his back to god and, with the assistance of his equally evil female ghostly cohort, sets out to destroy the Shogunate. Luckily, the legendary samurai Jubei Yagyu sets out to stop him — otherwise, there would be no tale to tell.
Like so many movies, Samurai Resurrection is neither a truly good movie nor a total turkey: its good features evened out by its bad, the movie floats somewhere in that nether region of movies that are okay to pass the time with but definitely don't deserve searching out. In fact, if you consider that this movie was released the same year as Takeshi Katana's much better The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003 / trailer), then this movie suddenly becomes rather second-rate, despite its attempts to be epic.
In turn, however, one might argue that Samurai Resurrection is so much better on a technical level than the similarly supernatural low-rent samurai two-parter released the following year, Werewolf Warrior I [2004] and II [2004 / trailer], that it could be considered first-rate… Perhaps, but Werewolf Warrior is so psychotronically bad that it is actually way more fun than Samurai Resurrection.
Like most Asian sock-em chop-em films — be they Wuxia, modern gangster, Chanbara, or art — the storyline of Samurai Resurrection sometimes gets a bit convoluted and discontinuous, a problem exacerbated by the average westerner's difficulty in differentiating the [for us] odd-sounding names. Additional clarity is perhaps enjoyed by Nippon natives due to their probable familiarity with the legend-relevant details and general history of the various characters; one assumes that those of the Land of the Rising Sun can say "Oh, that's so and so!" long before people of other nations stop scratching their heads. Indeed, that Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi (Kôichi Satô of Sukiyaki Western Django [2007 / trailer]) is the hero would've been clear to any Japanese native, as he is legend, but we spent much of the beginning assuming that he, with his lazy presence and bad hair, was just some peripheral character doomed to die soon. (It would seem, however, that his bad hair is a cultural tradition, as all trailers to other film versions of the tale that we've looked at reveal the character to always have the same haircut.)
But even unfamiliarity with names doesn't explain general big surprises like one good girl's sudden unmasking as a (good) evil spirit, jump cuts that suddenly place characters in totally new situations (like when the good girl, last seen in prison, is suddenly escaping on a horse with her father, last seen kissing the floor), the total disappearance of another girl (whose escape from prison we seem to have missed), and familial interactions that defy the logical (Japanese dads seem extremely willing to embrace evil just so they can fight their sons).
That Amakusa Shirō (Yôsuke Kubozuka of Ichi [2008 / trailer] and Tomie: Replay [2000 / trailer]) is so much older than is historically correct is permissible artistic license, even if his sudden embrace of evil is, well, sudden, despite all the slaughter. The how and why the idolizing babe Clara Oshina (Kumiko Asô of Pulse [2001 / trailer], Casshern [2004 / trailer] and Kaidan [2007 / trailer]) goes evil is left to the viewer's imagination, so let's write it off to love. And while the costumes in general are top notch, it would be an understatement to say that the costumes worn by two baddies tend to instigate more sniggers than they do inspire dread.
Though Samurai Resurrection might be lacking in some aspects, the movie nevertheless often excels in some of its visuals and big scenes. The opening recreation of the Shimbara Rebellion is well staged and appropriately full of indiscriminate slaughter; most of the fight scenes are well shot and satisfactorily executed; and more than once the scenery is simply beautiful (the fight scene at the seaside field of swaying grasses combine both). One of the best scenes, of course, is the movie's only breast scene in which a babe (so beautiful that she even raised our sudden and heretofore non-existent male Caucasian "Asian fetish") lay on a table for a prolonged period of time — only to CGI into an evil resurrected samurai. (An unexplainable aspect of the movie is that young, beautiful girls are required as to host — and die — for the mostly male samurai resurrections.) To destroy female beauty like that not only reveals that Amakusa Shirō is truly evil, but also explains his campy taste in clothes and hair.
We would admit that we found the ending mildly aggravating, in that special way that horror filmmakers who simply just don't want to truly let the ending be incontrovertible tend to annoy us. (Wes Craven was big on that.) Still, for all its flaws, Samurai Resurrection doesn't exactly suck, not even in a micro-penis sort of way; nevertheless, for a film that obviously tries to be an epic of sorts, it comes across in the end more like an edited-down movie version of a big budget TV mini-series. It's passable, both in the sense that you can watch it if you want, or not bother. The decision is yours.

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