Look at that title. It seems simple enough, so straightforward that it almost has to be a parody. Right? That's the right track, but few mere parodies are so elaborate in their set-up as "Kill!", or as witty in how that set-up plays out. And that's even without acknowledging that "Kill!" does a fine job as samurai action, even if you're not inclined to laugh at the genre.Kill! opens with Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) and Hanji (Etsushi Takahashi) meeting while taking turns trying to chase down a chicken, since it has been a while since either has had much of a meal. They are both ronin, of sorts: Genta has abandoned the samurai lifestyle, sick of the compromise and corruption, while Hanji has sold his farm to buy a sword, even though there is far more to being a samurai than carrying the sword. The local yakuza have no work for them, although a local lord might. It doesn't take long for things to become a mess, with Genta pretending that Hanji has killed him so that Hanji can secure a position, a group of honorable samurai holed up in an old mountain fort, and the leader of the mercenary samurai sent to rout them is only in it for the money to buy the freedom of his beloved.
As much as the film throws at the audience to set these circumstances up in the first half, it streamlines itself beautifully, with the second half working as a great siege movie. Director Kitachi Okamoto (working from the same source novel as Kurosawa's Sanjuro) strikes the difficult balance between building tension and making the audience grin; even while the situation in the fort becomes more untenable, Genta's actions to resolve the situation are the clever and amusing actions of a man with a cool head and more skills than his disheveled appearance would suggest. Okamoto stages physical comedy and serious fighting with equal aplomb.
He's got a good star to work with. Nakadai had previously worked with Okamoto on Sword of Doom, but the only resemblance between Genta and his character there is their skill with the sword. Genta has a heart to fit his stature; it overcomes his world-weariness with ease. Nakadai gives the character a nice combination of mischief and wisdom. As with Okamoto, he's got a fine line to walk, and he does it with style.
The supporting cast is good too. Takahashi is nicely earnest as the farmer who would be a samurai and is in over his head. He plays nicely off Nakadai, and does a nice job of realizing just what he's gotten himself into as the movie goes on. Akira Kubo is perfectly conflicted as the samurai following a less than noble master, as is Naoko Kubo as his beloved. There's plenty more - two whole bands worth of samurai - but they all make individual impressions.The action is pretty nice, too - fast-paced and sharp as the swords involved. "Kill!" might not quite be as fine a movie as double-bill-mate "Sword of Doom", but it delivers the action promised in the title and more besides.