While growing up here in America, I never experienced samurai films. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I enjoyed my first samurai film, but since I already had a huge love for western films, it was easy to attach myself to samurai stories as well. Their themes and plot lines are similar and the characters themselves are virtually interchangeable. My only problem is that I have quite a few samurai films that I now need to see! The most recent sword-slashing addition to my viewing list was Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai (1964).
In a farming community there is a corrupt magistrate (Hisashi Igawa). Local peasant farmers have kidnapped the magistrate’s daughter in an attempt to get him to listen to their desperate pleas. A wandering samurai, Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba), stumbles upon the hostage and her captors. He stays to see how things unfold, but when the magistrate comes with his own group of samurai, Shiba gets himself involved by standing up for the farmers. After Shiba makes his stand against injustice, two other samurai, Sakura and Kikyo (Isamu Nagato and Mikijro Hiro), change sides and help Shiba in his fight for this community.
Three Outlaw Samurai is a remarkable action film. The fighting scenes are choreographed like dance steps, and each one is executed with perfection. One of the main reason I associate western and samurai films is because of the speed with which someone is killed. Each sword fight takes only a few seconds, similar to two cowboys dueling in the middle of a deserted dirt street. The actors in Three Outlaw Samurai move like ballerinas, as they quickly jump about the screen. They are agile and graceful, but they are also filled with a fierceness and intensity that is second to none. Shiba and his fellow samurai warriors are extremely brutal, just the way one would hope.
In addition to being a great action film, Three Outlaw Samurai stands out as a remarkably well made film. Cinematographer, Tadashi Sakai, filmed this hard hitting action film with a softness that is unexpected. It is beautiful from beginning to end, and is pieced together with the highest possible quality. The music was also an interesting and stimulating addition to the overall enjoyment. Its reoccurring theme stayed in my head long after I finished watching. (Quite similar in that respect to The Good, the Bad And The Ugly.)
Shiba is an extraordinary character. His intensity and desire to help those less fortunate is both stirring and inspiring. No matter the obstacles, he is going to power through not because he is paid or respected, but because he understands the difference between right and wrong. He would never surrender, nor would he ever give in under any circumstances. Brave doesn’t even begin to explain who Shiba is deep down, and through all of his trial and tribulations, he still stands straight and prepares for whatever task is waiting.
Three Outlaw Samurai was the first of Hideo Gosha’s films that I have had the privilege to see. He is remembered as one of the greatest and most revolutionary samurai filmmakers of all time, especially for his most popular films, Goyokin (1969) and Hitokin (1969). Hopefully someday all of his films will be more readily available.