Written by: John White on January 1st, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1968
Director: Kihachi Okamoto
Written by: Akira Murao, Kihachi Okamoto
Music: Masaru Sato
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Etsushi Takahashi, Atsuo Nakamura, Shigeru Koyama, Shin Kishida, Yuriko Hoshi, Eijiro Tono
DVD released: October 25, 2005
Approximate running time: 114 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.99
Two Ronin, Genta (Nakadai) and Hanjiro (Takahashi), travel to a dustbowl town attracted by the fact that the local chief was hiring swordsmen. Once there, they hear that the Chief was a crook and see his assassination by seven young Samurai acting with what they believe was the heir apparent’s blessing. Genta warns the seven against killing saying he remembers something similar and they ignore him. The two Ronin find themselves on different sides when Hanjiro goes to join the politicking heir apparent, Ayuzawa (Koyama), and Genta for his own reasons sides with the seven. The seven hole up at an abandoned fort and the leader’s fiancé ,Chino (Hoshi), somehow gets to them only to expose the jealousy the men feel at her union with the leader, Tetsutaro (Nakamura). Ayuzawa orders his troops to besiege the seven, and hires a group of Ronin to attach them as well. Can Genta expose Ayuzawa without bloodshed and will the two Ronin end up killing each other?
Okamoto’s film uses the same source as Kurosawa’s Sanjuro but takes a comical and genre satirising approach to the material. The two central characters are a farmer who yearns to be a Samurai and a former Samurai who left his clan because of the politicking of his fellows. Nearly all the Samurai who are presented in Kill are either venal and corrupt or are being exploited for their belief in Bushido. Okamato’s film flies in the face of the usual honourable presentation of Samurai in usual Chanbara and even nods towards the American Western tradition in it’s settings and the wonderful score by Masaru Sato. In fact the characters that are most honourable in Kill are not Samurai and either don’t want to be them or have given up the idea. Hanjiro starts the film willing to do anything to become a Samurai but once he finds he must kill without honour or let a good man die he turns his back on his ambition.
Kill is a very knowing film and rather than upholding loyalty and service like most Samurai films, it ends with Samurais leaving their master and prostitutes freed from their bonds. In 1968 a film with this message, is very much one of the decade of JFK and Martin Luther King. With all this fancy intellectual stuff going on, it is a relief that the fights are so well done and the humour works as many comic Samurai films fall between these two stools, Okamoto’s Red Lon for instance. Kill gets the balance just right and is a joy for any fan of the genre that will understand the in-jokes and enjoy the wonder that is Tatsuya Nakadai. I don’t know if I enjoy an actor more than Nakadai from earnest idealist in the Human Condition, to scary sociopath in Sword of Doom, to the whimsical decency of his performance here.
Kill is a must have for any Chanbara fan.
The transfer is a restored High Definition beauty from the original negative. The look of the film is sharp with no softening and no grain is visible in darker sequences.
The sound is just about perfect too with no sounds or pop on the mono soundtrack that I noticed. The new English subtitles are very reliable.
There are few extras, just a teaser for the film, a trailer and an essay of the film which explains a little about Okamoto’s deliberately off-centre film making.
This is a bare bones Criterion release, but any future releases will struggle to improve on the presentation of the main movie.
For more information about Kill! and other titles released by Criterion visit their website.