Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 10th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1981
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Tatsuo Nogami
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kenji Sawada, Henry Sanada
DVD Released: June 29th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Japanese, Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.98
Synopsis: In 1638 a Christian rebel Amakusa Shiro (Kenji Sawada), lead thousands of warriors in a revolt against the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. Amakusa Shiro for a month was able to hold back the Emperor’s forces only to be eventually slaughtered in the end. Shiro unable to find peace in the afterlife comes back to life and with the use of black magic he assembles an unstoppable army of the undead Samurai’s to help him take vengeance. Shiro’s first resurrection is the Lady Hosokawa (Akiko Kana), who has been thrown aside by her husband in favor of his mistress. Shiro quickly builds his army of undead Samurai’s including the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (Ken Ogata) and master of the ninja arts Goemon Ishikawa (Hiroyuki Sanada). Shiro or Hosokawa seduce each new victim by preying on weaknesses and fears of dying. After word gets to Yagyu Jubei (Sonny Chiba) about Amakusa Shiro’s sinister plan of vengeance against the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. Yagyu Jubei enlists the help of the master sword maker Muramasa whose blades contain evils spirits and they are able to kill demons. Jubei’s father is one of the Shogun’s chamberlains and while training Jubei as a young boy during a training session he accidentally threw a dart in Jubei’s eye. Amakusa Shiro takes possession of Jubei’s father leading to a final showdown against his undead father.
In 1961 Kinji Fukasaku and Sonny Chiba began their film career together in the film Wandering Detective: Tragedy in Red valley and they would work together a total of 18 Times through out the years. Kinji Fukasaku is most know for his hardboiled Yakuza films, Wolves, Pigs and People, Japan Organized Crime Boss, Gambler Foreign Opposition, Street Mobster, Cops vs. Thugs, Yakuza Burial, and Graveyard of Honor. There is plenty of action in Samurai Reincarnation and Kinji Fukasaku manages to keep things moving at a brisk pace that makes the films feel shorter then its 122 minute length.
Samurai Reincarnation has inspired various movie versions still Kinji Fukasaku’s 1981 version remains the most popular. Sonny Chiba gives one of his better performances as Yagyu Jubei a role he obviously enjoyed playing. Kinji Fukasaku direction is inventive as he uses every inch of the frame and he always manages to make even the most static shot interesting. The special effects are impressive the films time constraints and the films climactic scenes in the Shogun’s castle as Jubei fights Shiro with his body covered in Buddhist writings as the castle is engulfed in a massive inferno of flames is beautifully executed.
Samurai Reincarnation is presented for the first time in North America on home video in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio and the image is anamorphic enhanced for widescreen television sets. The colors are strong as they vividly capture the films costumes and sets in all their glory. Flesh tones are natural rendered and darker scenes retain a lot of detail as grain is kept to a minimum.
Included on this DVD are two audio options the original Japanese audio track and the campy English dubbed audio track which in many scenes of the films disrupts the mood and lessens the impact of the actors performance. The Japanese audio track is the preferred of the two and it is a joy to finally here Sonny Chiba’s voice for a change. Both Audio tracks have been cleaned up as they get the job done. The English subtitles which are easy to read and follow.
Extras include a twenty minute interview with Sonny Chiba, Image gallery, and Samurai Reincarnation’s original trailer. Tokyo Shock has also included 4 trailers for other films they carry on DVD and extensive liner notes written by Chris D. author of the upcoming books Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film as well as Gun and Sword. The films of Sonny Chiba have had a checkered past here in North America mostly being released on DVD by budget label companies with washed out VHS looking transfers and in most cases cropped from their original aspect ratio. Tokyo Shock’s release of Samurai Reincarnation is thirty minutes longer then the previous North American release giving Chiba fans a rare opportunity to see a Sonny Chiba film that uses the DVD format to its fullest and let’s hope more Chiba films receive this kind of treatment in the future. Samurai Reincarnation is one Sonny Chiba’s lesser know films, still this new DVD release gives fans something to rejoice over and if you are a fan of Sonny Chiba this is a must have DVD.
Note: It has been brought to my attention that there is a missing scene on this DVD and it occurs during the scene when Jubei is in the sword maker’s cabin and an earthquake starts. The DVD briefly pauses before skipping to the next scene. The DVD is missing footage of Mushashi attacking the cabin and the DVD runs about 118 minutes when the DVD box states 122 minutes which means 4 minutes is missing.