Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 3rd, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, December 5th, 1979
Director: Mitsumasa Saito
Writer: Toshio Kamata
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Jun Eto, Toshitaka Ito, Haruki Kadokawa, Hiroshi Kamayatsu
DVD Released: September 19th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 139 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Optimum
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £12.99
A squadron of Japanese soldiers are transported into the past were Shoguns and Samurai’s rule the land. Lt. Yoshiaki Iba (Sonny Chiba) tries to keep his men in line while he thinks of a way to get them back home. Kagatore (Isao Natsuki) is an ambitious samurai who aspire to be the next shogun and when he sees Lt. Yoshiaki Iba weapons of mass destruction he forms an alliance. Does Kagatore have ulterior motives or will he help Iba and his men find their way back home?
Having now seen G.I. Samurai a couple times I have to say that this film only gets better the more that I watch it. G.I. Samurai is an interesting take on the time travel phenomena and like most movies that have used this theme as its main plot device there are a few plot holes that are never fully explained. During the course of the film the Japanese soldiers while plotting on how to get back home they only seemed concerned about meeting any of their ancestors. They had no problems killing thousands of samurai’s in the process which some may have even been related to them. This logic of how future can only be altered when you come in contact with your ancestors is a major flaw that is never really explained. Even with this minor flaw in the logic of the film once the action gets going it is hard not to lose yourself in this film.
The acting is good with the stand out performance coming from Sonny Chiba who gets plenty of chances to flex his muscles. Two of Chiba’s stand out moments is when he rides a horse during a battle and when he hangs from a rope that dangles from a helicopter while he shoots an Uzi. The relationship between Iba and Kagatore that evolves through out the film is what holds the films narrative together. The film uses flashbacks during the film that cut between the past and present that are memoirs from one of the soldiers past. These flashbacks at best interesting as they feel out of place and disrupt the narrative flow. My favorite moment in the film is when a group of soldiers visit a widow because it is the town’s custom that she service all men who come through her village. This scene at first just appears to unnecessary exploitation until a battle that takes place later in which we get to see for a moment two enemies remembered a time when they were friends which adds some humanity to characters we are not given enough time to know and care about. Mitsumasa Saito’s direction is solid as he stages epic battle scenes that are evenly balanced with the more dramatic moments. The bizarre images and colors used while the soldiers travel through time add to the surreal tone that is present through out the film. This film really excels in its action sequences which are expertly executed and epic in size. The final third of the film is all out action that doesn’t let up until the films final moments. What G.I. Samurai lacks in story is makes up for with its non stop action.
Optimum presents G.I. Samurai in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original aspect ratio. Optimum just like they had done for their previous Sonny Chiba releases has sourced their G.I. Samurai transfer from a 35 MM print. Colors look nicely saturated and robust with natural looking flesh tones. The black levels are in great shape as there is an exceptional amount of detail present in every frame. There are no problems with compression or artifacts and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. This transfer is progressive scan as the image remains stable through out and there are no noticeable problems with ghosting or blurring. Overall this is another first rate transfer from Optimum and it is on par quality wise with Adness’s region 1 G.I. Samurai DVD release. This release comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track that is presented in a Dolby Digital stereo. The dialog is crisp and easy to understand. The music and effects are evenly balanced as they never overpower the other. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been included.
The extras for this release are similar to the ones included in Optimum’s previous Sonny Chiba collection and they are as follows the films original theatrical trailer and a bio on Sonny Chiba. Other extras include a gallery of original Japanese poster art that includes the following films The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, Yakuza Deka, Yakuza Deka: The Assasssin, The Bullet Train, The Killing Machine and two posters for Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment. Rounding out the extras is a Sonny Chiba trailer collection that includes the following titles The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, Yakuza Deka, The Killing Machine, Yakuza Deka: The Assassin, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment and Bullet Train. G.I. Samurai is also available as part of Optimum Asia’s Sonny Chiba collection volume 2 which also includes Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment and Bullet Train. Optimum Asia adds G.I. Samurai to their ever growing Sonny Chiba collection and its solid audio/video presentation makes up for its lack of extras. This DVD release is the restored full length version of the film which includes forty minutes of footage not included in G.I. Samurai’s original U.S. theatrical release. G.I. Samurai weaves a tale that cleverly mixes two genres together for an epic tale for the ages, highly recommended.
For more information about G.I. Samurai and other titles released by Optimum visit their website.