“Three Outlaw Samurai” (1964)
Source: Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)
According to Criterion, Hideo Gosha is one of the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers – honestly, I had no idea, but Three Outlaw Samurai is undoubtedly the work of a cinematically visionary filmmaker. The story can be summed up quickly, as a wandering Ronin comes across three peasants holed up in a decapitated farmhouse,m holding the daughter of the magistrate hostage in order to negotiate lower taxes, taxes that had been designed to keep the peasants underfoot. Through circumstance, the Ronin (protecting the peasants from the magistrate’s samurai) befriends two other mercenary samurai, and the three of them together face the double-crossing magistrate and his soldiers. I’ve never been a fan of sword-and-sandal epics, and to me, Samurai films were simply a Japanese version of these low-budget oversees popcorn films, but as I further explore the genre, I’m slowing gaining more of an appreciation for the deceptively simple plots of the classic Samurai films of Japan that unravel in a series of unearthed sub-plots, incidents, criss-crossing characters, the stabs at (or within) human darkness, and at times even political conspiracy. In this light, I’m beginning to see the Samurai film as akin to both the Spaghetti Western and the story style of American Films Noirs. And because of this,I’m now pretty keen on doing some further exploring within this genre. Luckily for me, a blind purchase (due to a cheap price and my usual affinity for the films in the Criterion Collection), I would up with Hideo Gosha’s first film as the door-opener into this celebrated Japanese genre. The black & white cinematography is astounding and reminded me of the stark black-and-white gangster films Underworld Beauty and Branded to Kill. Three Outlaw Samurai is a short film but there is plenty to contemplate here. I know I might be in the minority of film fanatics, discovering the Samurai genre so late, but if you happen to be in the same boat, I can’t recommend Three Outlaw Samurai enough. Track it down!