Ronin Gai (1990) DVD Aug 3, 2010 23:05:24 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Aug 3, 2010 23:05:24 GMT -5
When one thinks of great Samurai movies, classic titles like Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Samurai Rebellion, Harakiri (Seppuku), The Hidden Fortress, The Sword of Doom, etc, come to mind. In the last 15 or so years many new classics have been released - The Twilight Samurai, When the Last Sword Is Drawn, and The Hidden Blade, among them.
In 1990, the film that may have gone a long way towards reviving the Samurai film genre in Japan was Ronin Gai. Ronin Gai featured a solid cast that included Shintaro Katsu (Zatoichi) in his final role. The film was fairly well written and directed, and had some fine performances from the cast. The mood that director Kazuo Kuroki created is almost perfect for the film. The sets and atmosphere created give the film a genuine period look (unlike some of the lesser Samurai movies), and the cinematography is quite good.
But what holds the film back from being in the top tier of Samurai films that are mentioned above is the script. It's not bad, but lacks a solid central hero. The drunken ronin who is played up as a potential hero has to be bribed to attempt to save the day. The more honorable ronin who is in love with the female lead is reluctant to stand up for himself (until the end), and Shintaro Katsu's character is a tough guy without any confidence in his abilities, so he relies on his wits to resolve situations. The screenwriters make it difficult to get behind any of these characters and root for them (again, until the very end, and even that isn't handled as well as it could have been).
The other issue is the action/swordfighting in the movie. The word that could be used is, "Sloppy." It stretches believability to think that the drunken ronin while falling down, slipping, tripping, and flailing away can successfully take on as many samurai as he does in the final sequence. While Kurosawa's influence on this film is clear, what it lacks is the disciplined, well prepared and choreographed swordfights that most of the best samurai movies have. None of these actors appear as athletic or coordinated as Toshiro Mifune or Tatsuya Nakadai, but that could have been minimized with greater preparation for the swordfight scenes.
Even with all that said, however, Ronin Gai is a good movie. eVery good in spots, which nearly earns it my 4 star rating. Shintaro Katsu gives a remarkable performance, and the rest of the cast is good at worst, and very good at best. As noted before, the mood created by director Kuroki was very good and fits the story perfectly, so there are many, many positives to point to when discussing Ronin Gai.
Ultimately, while not the best film to introduce a samurai movie neophyte to, it is a movie that already converted fans of the genre should watch at least once.
The DVD looks pretty good, but like the movie itself it isn't great. There isn't anything particularly wrong with the DVD, it just isn't among the best examples of a DVD transfer of a fairly recent movie. The picture is fairly crisp and sharp, but the contrast can sometimes be lacking, and the encoding ins't progressive, giving several instances of, "Combing," or interlacing. None of that is a deal breaker, but it is disappointing. This should have been a better DVD release.