KILL!

(Japanese Title: Kiru)
(1968)
With Tatsuya Nakadai, Etsushi Takahashi, Naoko Kubo, Shigeru Koyama, Akira Kubo
Directed by Kihachi Okatamo
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

Ooops... sorry, Director-san!     KILL! is reportedly based on the same novel as Akira Kurosawa's SANJURO, though you wouldn't know it at first glance. Both films are arguably comedies, but Kurosawa's film is gentler, swordplay and famous gush of climactic blood aside, while Kihachi Okatamo's film is what a samurai action flick crossed with a spaghetti western would be like if written and directed by Dick Lester.  It is a parody movie not in a throw everything at the wall and use it all way like Mel Brooks but in the way SCREAM and SHAUN OF THE DEAD are parodies of horror films.  Like those movies, KILL! skillfully exaggerates the elements of a genre while still being slick and well-plotted enough to stand on its own as an example of that genre.  In his great samurai films,  Okatamo plays the clichés close to the bone, so that if you are not well-versed in these types of films, you may not even get the satire.  

     As best as I can describe it after one viewing, KILL! is about a group of seven samurai sent out on an assassination mission only to be betrayed by the warlord who sent them.  Tatsuya Nakadai plays a vagrant caught up in the betrayal and, having seen it happen before in his former life as a samurai, attempts to nip things in the bud and save the seven from an ignominious fate.  Nakadai is marvelous in the role, as the hangdog ex-samurai who now prefers to keep company with the lowlife yakuza.  His performance plays against Etsushi Takahashi's energetic turn as a poor farmer who longs to become a samurai.  The two characters cross paths throughout the film, and through plot complications, the farmer finds himself dedicated to killing the vagrant at first sight but always failing, sometimes accidentally killing or maiming somebody else with his wayward sword.  Typical of the humorous touches in this film, the farmer's loyalties get so mixed up, at one point he happily finds himself with one group of samurai before realizing that he really belongs to the opposing group and making a hasty exit..  (A similar gag occurs in SANJURO, when a prisoner finds himself momentarily dancing for joy with his captures of the news of a recent victory.) 

     As noted in other reviews in this section as well as the Kurosawa and Zatoichi sections, the influence of Kurosawa films on American and Italian westerns was soon reflected back, as the films that were once influenced by Japan were now themselves leaving a mark on the samurai films of the sixties.  In KILL!, this is most noticeable in the score by famed composer Masaru Satô , who rose to fame through his work with Kurosawa.  Sato's themes, complete with wailing horns and twangy electric guitars,  lack even a hint of Japanese flavor and could almost be mistaken for lost Ennio Morricone outtakes.

     The 1960s were a golden age of superb, intelligent black and white samurai movies that portrayed samurai not as godlike creatures of Japanese lore but as human beings, sometimes sloppy and lazy (YOJIMBO, SANJURO), sometimes even evil and insane (SWORD OF DOOM), often taking a stand for themselves against their masters (SAMURAI REBELLION, HARA KIRI).  KILL!, set in a historical time when the lines between samurai, yakuza and plain old working stiffs were increasingly blurred and easy to cross, may be often hard to follow, but is certainly one of the best films of this particular period of Japanese cinema. 4 - JB

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