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Samurai Saga
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by Jay Seaver

"Samurai de Bergerac"
5 stars

Well, why not do a samurai version of "Cyrano de Bergerac"? It's a classic story, filled with grand, doomed romance and the occasional swordfight; every culture has that somewhere in their past, along with ostracizing those who look different. It's far less of a stretch to put Cyrano in feudal Japan than it is to put him in a Colorado resort.

It doesn't hurt at all to have Toshiro Mifune as the warrior-poet with the big nose. Here, Cyrano's name is Heihachiro Komaki. He's a big, burly guy whose broad nose and scruffy appearance distract from his skill with the sword; one wouldn't necessarily expect him to write a good haiku, either. The object of his affection is beautiful young Lady Ochii (Yoko Tsukasa); she is smitten with Jutaro Karibe (Akira Takarada), who feels the same but cannot find the words to woo her. There are plots and schemes and arranged marriages to further complicate things, overcoming which will require Komaki's wit and blade.

The characters are all played well, especially Mifune's Komaki. The prosthesis he uses isn't exactly minimal, but it's not the cartoonish beak that many productions favor. Komaki's nose is broader than his lips (even when the character is smiling) and sort of asymmetrical and ugly; it just sort of sprawls all over his face. It's clear to see why people like him, though - he's gregarious, tends to have his hair mussed up and his clothing in a bit of disarray. He's knowledgeable about a great many things but not stuck-up about it, and a loyal friend and confidant. Mifune always was the sort of actor who could dominate a scene without crowding his co-stars out, and that's what he does here. Yoko Tuskasa and Akira Takarada are younger and prettier, and the audience certainly comes to like their characters, but they're not Toshiro Mifune.

Writer/director Hiroshi Inagaki makes good use of his star, and also does a fine job of presenting the story so that it's more than just a transplantation of "Cyrano". The love triangle is a major part of the film, of course, but there's still plenty of intrigue that is specific to the setting to make Samurai Saga its own animal. He also juggles enough cast members and plotlines to make things unweildy with grace, and keeps things going between the action scenes without overdoing the philosophizing.

Also - this film is beautiful to look at. It played locally as part of a "Samurai Cinema" program that made stops in various repertory houses around the country, and was (I think) the only one in color. As delightfully stark as the other monochrome films were, the bright color and broad Tohoscope framing gives it a special warmth and grandeur. The final scene, especially, is beautiful and memorable. Also of note is a fine score by Akira Ifukube, perhaps best known for the soundtrack to Godzilla.

Samurai film is sort of a macho genre, but it seems to allow its characters more room than many similar genres. It's easier to believe that Toshiro Mifune can be a complete bad-ass and also kind of a schlub than it might be for a Western or a cop movie, and that's part of what makes this film so much fun. Along with the looking and sounding so nice.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13794&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/25/06 22:58:03
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User Comments

6/10/11 Tom Hunter Beautiful yet heartwrenching film. The final scene brought me to tears. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  02-Jul-1959

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