Chase’s review published on Letterboxd:
Masahiro Shinoda Explored: Part I
Broke out of my recent Western comfort food binge with a film that I've long meant to watch.
Somewhat shamefully, this was the first Masahiro Shinoda film I'd seen, and it made me a quick fan (I watched another mere hours later, stay tuned for that review, dear possible reader).
Above all, this man directed with style. I imagined, a few times, while watching Samurai Spy what Shinoda would have been capable of with a modern day budget. The action scenes in Samurai Spy betray a truly gifted sense for depicting violence and combat in film with interest and talent. You can practically feel that the man wanted to do more than his limited means allowed.
Nonetheless, this film proves to be a consistently gripping tale of intrigue and dueling. The former word is even more important than the battling: to say the least, this thing is crammed with enough twists to make David Mamet proud.
On that note, I should admit at possible risk of seeming thick, this film is damn confusing at times. I definitely think I would benefit from a second viewing (and perhaps a deeper knowledge of Japanese history).
It's at least loosely based in truth, with the events of the film following the historical Battle of Sekigahara. Here is where it can get tricky to follow: the Tokugawa shogunate rules Japan, but is challenged by Toyotomi clan, while spy Tatewaki Koriyama plans to defect, with spies including Sakon Takatani, Tatewaki Koriyama, and Shigeyuki Koremura all vying for their respective sides (or *are* they?).
Meanwhile, our leading man, Sarutobi Sasuke, serves the Sanada clan, feeling trapped between all sides. Phew! It's a lot to take in, and the film has no patience for us dumb Americans. (ha.)
I won't lie, amidst the films near constant twists, at times when our hero glares at a presence, essentially saying, "It's *you*, ___________. I should have known," I'd find myself going, "Uh, who?"
It speaks to the films strength that in *spite* of this lingering confusion I had a great time with Samurai Spy. Made during the Cold War, the film speaks to the futility of blind loyalty in war, to the pointless struggle between the constantly revolving upper and lower hands.
I appreciated the hero's journey from a young man sick of war (a bit in which he rejects his actions during the prior great battle with, basically, "I was a damn teenager. I've grown up and this shit sucks, man."), hoping for peace, only to ultimately resign himself to the necessity for action forced upon him by lesser men.
Samurai Spy also, I'll repeat, has style for days. One gorgeous long shot towards the film's end during a duel, with the action barely perceptible, while the hero's love interest frightfully watches on is among my favorite takes in recent memory.
A fun film that's rather unlike other samurai films I've seen, and certainly one I intend to revisit. Hopefully I'll feel a bit less slow next time!