Samurai Spy (1965)

21 11 2008

Masahiro Shinoda’s film marks the second part of my on-going and informal samurai mini-marathon. It is every bit as great as Hideo Gosha’s Sword of the Beast, but it is almost a completely different type of film. Judging by his (highly enjoyable) interviews, Shinoda is definitely something of a cinematic scholar. He just seems to have a good deal of cinematic knowledge, which he doesn’t mind displaying throughout this film. It’s not that he indulges himself in any “tributes” or “homages” a la Tarantino, but this film just feels like the work of someone who truly loves film.

Where Gosha’s film is certainly energetic, if not a sponteanous experience, Shinoda’s is a bit more contemplative. Both films have lovely visuals, but Shinoda seems to have devoted a lot more attention to his compositions. His very montage-driven editing style seems like it would be going against the grain of a film filled mostly with precise long static shots, but it works in this case. Calling this a Wong Kar-Wai samurai film might be a little of a stretch, but it certainly evokes Wong’s unique romantic aesthetic more than a few times. In fact, the aforementioned precise static shot seem to anticipate Wong’s 2046, if only in a very minor way.

Shinoda, again unlike Gosha, seems to devote a lot of time to giving his characters some substance. Taking this and the slower pace into account, Shinoda’s film comes a lot closer to being the Japanese version of Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher. They were my own critical starting points for Sword of the Beast but the only real similarity lies in the concept of making an arty genre film. Shinoda is clearly operating on his own wavelength here, but it is easy to see that the influence of the American has impacted him.

Unfortunately for the film, it’s formal experimentation is all a part of a very dry and complicated story involving an endless cast of characters talking at an almost non-stop rate. There are some very nice moments where Shinoda has the characters shut up in favor of his wonderful compositions, but soon the next plot point comes up and there’s another fifteen minutes of nothing but talking. It doesn’t make the film an outright failure, but it does prevent it from reaching its potential. Whatever the case, this is easily the most impressive effort I’ve seen from Masahiro Shinoda. I’m definitely a lot more interested in seeing his other work now.