Written by: George Pacheco on July 4th, 2015
BluRay released: May 26th, 2015
Approximate running time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 English
BluRay Release: Synapse Films
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $24.95
The realm of retro throwback genre film-like any other popular style-has its good (Machete, Black Dynamite) and bad (Hobo With a Shotgun, Wolfcop), with writer/director Kurando Mitsusake’s Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf falling somewhere in the middle, although with more ticks in the win column than usual for many films of its ilk.
The film was released back in 2009-right when these sorts of stylistic love letters were beginning to pick up steam and popularity amongst the indie cult film community- and, to the filmmakers’ credit, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf does play it relatively straight for the most part, despite utilizing many of the typical trappings of the throwback piece, such as intentionally damaged reels and plot devices lifted from such classics as Zatoichi the spaghetti western Blindman as well as the Lone Wolf and Cub series of Japanese manga and film.
The Blind Wolf also possesses a vibe which is indebted heavily to Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Kill Bill films, as it tells the tale of a blind, tormented samurai who is on a mission to avenge the death of his wife and child. The samurai joins up with a nameless drifter along the way, and the duo take on seven specialized assassins, all of whom take turns in attempting to kill the samurai and partner in unique, inventive ways, from zombie assassins and topless hypnotists to a very pregnant summoner with a ball and chain to grind. All the while, a narrator occasionally pops up to give back story on the characters, or to give information about certain techniques or skills.
The Blind Wolf’s nemesis is played by a scene chewing Domiziano Arcangeli, an actor who has appeared in many late period exploitation films from his native Italy. Arcangeli is really over the top and hammy, however, and is more of an annoying joke than a memorable villain. Instead, the film’s success lies more with the random encounters the Blind Wolf and crew meet along the way, as Mitsutake’s sword-wielding angel of vengeance delivers death blow after messy death blow to a variety of foes, with many of the visceral set pieces utilizing really well done, old school practical effects alongside decent, if occasionally distracting CGI.
Unfortunately, not all of The Blind Wolf’s cast seem to be very adept of martial arts, with many of the fights rounding themselves out as quickly as possible, in order to mask the lack of choreography or skill involved. Mitsutake is stoic enough as the blind samurai, but his Christian Bale-as-Batman dialogue delivery gets old fast, and his swordsmanship is passable, but nothing groundbreaking. Jeffery James Lippold provides some comic relief as the samurai sidekick with a secret, while the film’s score is a combination of retro synth stings and period piece music composed on a budget. It’s very strong at times-see the final duel-but weak in other spots early on in the opening credits, where it sounds as if more attention could’ve been paid to make it sound bigger and more impactful.
Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf really gets going about half way through-once the silly Arcangeli character is put on the back burner, and we can focus on the samurai’s journey-and finishes strong, with a real sense of love for the source material placed firmly in front by the filmmakers. Mitsutake is clearly inspired by the greats, and puts his best foot forward when trying to create his own world of magic, monsters and samurai mayhem.
Synapse’s Blu Ray of Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is presented in a 2.35:1 1080 Progressive widescreen which looks bright and colorful. Any print damage is intentional on the part of the filmmakers, including moments when a fake “interlace negative” is used and flesh tones change for a brief instant. The score could be boosted a bit in the mix, and the dialogue more even across the board, but the 5.1 Dolby audio still sounds pretty damn good, it must be said, right down to the squelching of blood and guts as they fly across the screen.
Extras are also solid here on this disc, as Synapse include audio commentary from Mitsutake, his editor and producer, as well as a feature length “making of” featurette, a blooper reel, sword choreography footage and the film’s original trailer. Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is chock full of goodies, and comes as a heartily recommended package for those looking for a retro throwback film with some serious bite for its budget.