Three Outlaw Samurai
Posted by martinteller on July 4, 2012
A wandering samurai stumbles upon an unusual scene… three peasants are holding the magistrate’s daughter hostage, hoping to negotiate to have their petition for better treatment heard. The samurai (after determining the girl hasn’t been raped) slowly warms up to the peasants and offers his services. Eventually two other samurai will join him, fighting to represent the downtrodden against the wicked bureaucrat.
Usually when Criterion releases a title, if it’s not already a widely known film, it generates some discussion, from those who have already seen it and those who are newly discovering it. The lack of any such hubbub about Three Outlaw Samurai gave me the impression that it was a relatively “minor” entry in the genre, of little interest to anyone but devotees of chambara flicks. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it such a well-done film. The subject matter is perhaps not the most original… there are elements familiar to anyone who’s seen Seven Samurai and Yojimbo/Sanjuro, but really not much more than any other samurai film. And yes, it touches on the usual themes of honor and loyalty, but it does so with a deep cynicism. Honor is a cheap commodity in this world, and loyalties are easily shifted.
In this sense, it’s along the same lines as Gosha’s follow-up, Sword of the Beast, and also features another terrific score by Toshiaki Tsushima. For a first film, the cinematography is fantastic. Gosha exploits the widescreen frame beautifully, caging characters in the edges and corners of the screen. A swordfight plays out in silhouette. Swift tracking shots and wild zooms keep the action fast and furious. And the action is very well-staged, with entertaining battles (although a bit much of the “greatly outnumbered hero easily dices all his opponents to bits” syndrome).
Of the titular samurai, I was particularly fond of Isamu Nagato, who reminded me a bit of Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) and Heihachi (Minoru Chiaka) from Seven Samurai. He provides some of the film’s best humor, but also has some deeper moments. But Tetsuro Tamba (mile-long credits, including You Only Live Twice and The Happiness of the Katakuris) and Mikijiro Hira are quite fine as well. Together they make a compelling trio, each with their own style, philosophy and motivation. I would hesitate to label this as one of the must-see chambara pictures, but it’s a solid one, with some wonderful camerawork and a cynical bite. Rating: Very Good