Review for Samurai Reincarnation
I have an embarrassing blind-spot in my appreciation of cinema. I love Battle Royale, directed by Kinji Fukasaku. This 2000 film was my introduction to Japanese live-action cinema, and one hell of a gateway drug. And to this date, Battle Royale is still one of my favourite Japanese live action films. But I just haven’t seen any more Kinji Fukasaku films to speak of. I have explored the filmographies of other directors with far more interest since then, but when it comes to Kinji Fukasaku, I have only seen Battle Royale II: Requiem, completed after his death by son, Kenta, and which went the traditional way of sequels being pale shadows of the original. And I have seen Tora Tora Tora, the 1970 US Japanese co-production that told the story of Pearl Harbor. Then again, it seems that Kinji Fukasaku’s weapon of choice was the yakuza movie, and movies about organised crime are historically lacking in my film collection. So when Eureka Entertainment solicited 1981’s Samurai Reincarnation (not to be confused with the 2003 remake Samurai Resurrection), a period horror action fantasy, I jumped at the chance to review it, to see something else that Kinji Fukasaku had directed.
400 years ago, the Tokugawa Shogunate instituted a purge when the Christian minority revolted. 37,000 were slaughtered, including their leader Shiro Amakusa. But fuelled by rage and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, Amakusa came back from the dead as a demon, and starts by resurrecting historical figures to wage war upon the Tokugawa. Standing alone against this menace is Jubei Yagyu.
Samurai Reincarnation gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice between PCM 2.0 Mono Japanese and English dub, with optional translated English subtitles and a signs only track. Note that the English dub has a short scene in Japanese, for which the dub was unavailable. Taken from a 2k restoration, the image on this disc is excellent, detailed, clear and sharp, with rich and consistent colours. There is no sign of print damage or age, and the film’s theatricality and pop video stylings come across without issue. The awesome conclusion of the film really pops, and there are no signs of compression, even in that particularly dynamic scene. The audio is fine, without any issue and the dialogue is clear, the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos.
The disc boots to a static menu page which lists the audio options and the extras, which are as follows.
Audio commentary with Tom Mes
Samurai Fiction: An Appreciation by Kenta Fukasaku (27:51)
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:59)
The first run release will come with o-card packaging, and a 20-page booklet with writing on the film from Jonathan Clements.
It’s 1981, CGI is a glint in a programmer’s eye at this point, and the director wants to film an epic sword fight finale in a burning castle. So they set fire to everything and stick the actors in. The conclusion of this film is insane. Backdraft has nothing on it. The rest of the film is visually stylised to say the least, the opening reminds me of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys music video, only with a sea of severed heads. It’s a historical fantasy delivered with arch theatricality like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s also the biggest WTF experience with cinema that I can recall.
Samurai Reincarnation left me adrift and utterly non-plussed. It is tenuously based on actual history, although the connections to any semblance of reality are gossamer thin. If you have enough experience with Japanese entertainment, whether it’s film, television, anime or manga, then you’ll be familiar with the some of the characters in the film, by name if not by biography, but you do need a more familiar cultural perspective to actually appreciate the film. My first time through the film was a cold and tedious experience. It’s only when I turned the commentary on and Tom Mes started filling in the history and describing the characters, so that I actually understood the cultural shorthand that native viewers will have ingrained, that I began to see where the film was coming from. But that’s no way to enjoy a movie.
That’s the problem here. I just didn’t enjoy Samurai Reincarnation. The premise is certainly good, a horror action movie where a vengeful demon resurrects figures from history to help destroy his enemies, and a lone warrior standing against them. It’s telling that I didn’t even see the obvious similarities to one of my most watched anime movies, Ninja Scroll until I read it in Jonathan Clements’ piece, down to the fiery climax. I think the ultimate turn off is that this is a movie where the actors are playing to the stands. It is arch theatricality turned up to and stuck at eleven all the way through, and that got very boring for me, very quickly.
There may be something to see in Samurai Reincarnation, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t see it. This is one of those discs where for me, the extra features are more interesting than the film. I guess Kinji Fukasaku will remain synonymous with Battle Royale to me, and nothing more.
Samurai Reincarnation is available directly from Eureka Entertainment, Terracotta, and mainstream retailers.