Thursday, February 16, 2006

Samurai Spy (1965)

This is an interesting entry in the 1960s Samurai Sweepstakes that produced so many top-drawer Japanese films. It's about warring spy factions, and like many films of its ilk it takes its violence seriously. Most of the action is filmed obliquely, whether via camera angles or foregrounded set dressing. This properly defuses the violent content so that we can critically evaluate the worth of the story. The problem with this film, though, is in its byzantine story construction -- every time the film seems to find its point, the story jets off in a different direction. I think the ultimate idea of the film is about man divided against his enemies and himself and the price of blind loyalty. (There's an absolutely stunning shot about forty minutes in that literalizes the former idea, with light from a slighty-ajar door "dividing" the protagonist.) But maybe I'm wrong -- the exposition here is so dizzying that it could be about anything. By film's end, I had no idea who was killing whom or why. Don't get me wrong -- it's a good film. It's well-made, entertaining and a bit thought-provoking. It's also ridiculously labyrinthine. It's probably not necessary to possess a degree in Japanese history to appreciate this, but it might help.

Grade: B-


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