KILL! (1968, Kihachi Okamoto)

Terrific! Maybe the best samurai movie I’ve seen. I never cared much for samurai movies, though… still, this was a blast. Stylish and musical in that late-60’s manner, with all the zooms and close-ups and depth-of-field tricks that you’d want.

Tatsuya Nakadai is Genta, “a former samurai haunted by his past, prefers living anonymously with gangsters” and Etsushi Takahashi is Hanji, “previously a farmer, longs to become a noble samurai”. Criterion’s promo blurb continues: “But when both men discover the wrongdoings of the nefarious clan leader, they side with a band of rebels who are under siege at a remote mountain cabin. Based on the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, Kill! playfully tweaks samurai film convention, borrowing elements from established chanbara classics and seasoning them with a little Italian western.”

Tatsuya Nakadai starred in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Sanjuro (second-billed to Mifune), Harakiri, High and Low (again second to Mifune), Kwaidan, The Face of Another, Sword of Doom, Samurai Rebellion, Kagemusha (title role), Ran (the elderly lord) and this year’s The Inugamis. Wowie.

Lots of samurai movie recommendations in Chris D’s essay at the Criterion site. One day when I’ve completely run out of must-see movies, I must see the whole Zatoichi series. “What is so rewarding about Kill! is Okamoto’s expert balance of seemingly disparate elements. He walks a tightrope, skillfully juggling humorous moments, fierce swordplay, and more sober, dramatic sequences, all punctuated by Masaru Sato’s alternately whimsical and wistful score.” Howard Hampton’s essay is useful too, and saves me from attempting a character description: “Tatsuya Nakadai as a hobo swordsman, plus a peasant bumpkin turned would-be samurai, a dispossessed retainer, one kidnapped chamberlain and one kidnap-per-chamberlain, a mercenary who needs thirty ryo to buy his wife’s freedom from a brothel, and even seven squabbling samurai in search of a raison d’être.”

Guess I strongly prefer these late 60’s samurai movies to the stuffy, slow, traditional 50’s ones that everyone so reveres. This one, darker and more cynical, reminds me more of Seijun Suzuki than Akira Kurosawa. Fun, nimble little movie, and brilliant looking camerawork throughout.