Those who know me are familiar with my love of the Samurai film genre. For my entire life I have loved and collected martial arts films. In the last decade, this interest has become more focused on a unique Japanese genre: Jidaigeki. Meaning “period drama,” this genre has often concentrated on Japan’s unique history and it’s iconic warriors: The samurai. Along with a sub category know as Chanbara or “sword fighting” films, these two genre’s make up what us westerners think of when we envision these legendary warriors.
Recently, I discovered a short film entitled “The 8th Samurai.” Written and directed by Justin Ambrosino. As a filmmaker and a huge Japanese film fan, I couldn’t wait to see it after watching the trailer. After tracking down their Facebook page, I was quickly in contact with the films editor Soojin Chung. To my surprise, she offered to send me a DVD copy of the film!
As soon as it arrived in the mail I popped it into my PS3 and watched it. The film centers around an actor named Nanshu who’s been cast as one of lead roles in one of Japan’s great directors new films. After several failed attempts at succeeding in life, he realizes this is his final chance to ascend to greatness. Things seem to be on the rise for him, until the director of the film has a mysterious dream that changes the fate of the film and steals Nashu’s precious role from him. He is left trying to figure out what to do next while being troubled by haunting visions of his dead mother.
It seemed that the filmmakers really grasped the poetic structure of the samurai film. As an obvious homage to Akira Kurosawa’s epic “Seven Samurai,” the film is an alternate reality take on a question that’s never been asked: “Why were there only 7 samurai?” The actor portraying Nanshu, (Eijiro Ozaki) really personifies the screen samurai. Despite it being a film, he portrays his character as an echo of the ancient samurai. He is honrable, dedicated and obsessed with duty. I believe Ozaki could stand his own on a big screen Chanbara film alongside any of the great actors of classic Japanese cinema.
The other standout performance is Nanshu’s “ghost-like” mother, (Akiko Shima.) Her character is very reminiscent of the old ghost woman in Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957.) She portrays the character as a sort of haunting spirit who constantly tells Nanshu that he’s a failure. The entire performance felt like an homage to Throne of Blood.
It is generally said that short films should limit themselves to under 10 minutes. Despite it’s length of 30 minutes, the film flows wonderfully. It’s tight storytelling keeps the viewer invested in Nanshu’s plight. The score was outstanding and really helped underscore the gravitas of the film with hints toward the original “Seven Samurai” score.
Overall I highly enjoyed the film and find it to be an outstanding piece that will sit proudly next to my copy of “Seven Samurai” on my DVD shelf.
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