Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Outlaw Samurai by Hideo Gosha

My membership to +Hulu expires every now and then and every now and then I feel a need to watch some Samurai action. +Hulu for whatever reason, appears to have an excellent relation with +The Criterion Collection , a company renown for their taste in films and giving those films 'deluxe' treatment and restoration but perhaps more importantly to the people I know, tons of Samurai films including the classics like Yojimbo, Samurai trilogy, and Seven Samurai.

When looking for something new to watch, I recognized the title Three Outlaw Samurai from another movie I watched not that long ago, Sword of the Beast. (I think the guy was also in Kill!)While I haven't written about that one, one of the actors from there is present here as well so that was a plus for me. Being a selection on Hulu from The Criterion Collection was another plus.

Looking into the history of the movie, it's old, from 1964 and it's DVD and bluray versions are fairly recent, 2012. It's apparently based on a television show of the same name, which I've never seen available. This is an 'origin' tale in how the Three Outlaw Samurai first met and joined together if Wiki is to be believed.

So on it went to the old Samsung Pro 12.2. Let me tell you, I've been using that tablet to watch cartoons like Ugly Americans and Bob's Burgers, but it did a fantastic job streaming Three Outlaw Samurai. I have to imagine that a lot of the crispness of the image and the quality of the sound, even from that tablet, was due to the excellent restoration job that the guys at Criterion did.

In terms of plot, pacing, and characters, Three Outlaw Samurai doesn't necessarily follow the 'standard' that other movies have often utilized, but it does have elements of them. There will be some spoilers below so if you'd rather have none, go sign up for a trial of Hulu or buy the DVD and enjoy it's awesomeness.

But in terms of cliches that work well because, well, they're still true today in the  dreaded real world?

For example, corrupt government? Check. Corrupt isn't necessarily the correct word here if taken into the full context of 'evil'. Rather, there are instances in the samurai society that when a man's word is given, especially between two samurai, that it's unbreakable. Such is NOT the case here where words are exchanged, punishments agreed on dealt out, but then instead of letting things go, power and appearance of power must be maintained and so the honorable thing is left to the wayside.

Note that this 'corruption' goes further than that. For example, while the farmers are rebelling against what they feel are unfair payments and taxes they must make, due not to their unwillingness to pay mind you, but poor harvest thanks to seasonalities that they can't control, they take prisoner the daughter of the magistrate. In turn, the magistrate takes prisoner one of the farmer's daughters and has her beaten in front of the farmers to demoralize them and get his daughter back. The daughter knowing the importance of her father's mission though, bites her tongue off in order to prevent herself from being used any further against the peasant cause.

Incompetent government? Check. Note that the two things are not quite the same. Towards the end of the film, when the outlaw samurai are fairly easily dispatching the foes sent against them, the 'villains' decide to burn the mill that the samurai are hiding in. If that had been done at the start of the film, the whole thing would've been vastly different.

Nobility: This one is a little trickier. In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark has been dead since the end of season one. His name is still invoked by people who talk about how much they respected him and what he tried to do and what he stood for. It winds up getting some killed and winds up in part, setting some on a different path. The presence of nobility, or a noble spirit, even when set against another, such as the case of Shiba and the things he forces the magistrate's daughter to see as they really are.

Status Change: One of the things that threads its way through the story, is that the peasants may be poor off, but the Samurai as a caste, are not doing much better. The magistrate, while having his own forces, hires various thugs and prisoners to do his dirty work because the samurai are out of work and hungry. Not hungry for work mind you, but literally hungry. Their era as knights who are well provided for due to their nature of being on the front line, is no longer needed.

Faceless Hordes: One of the things about many Samurai movies, is that there are 'skilled' samurai and then people who pretty much hold a sword and hope that they don't get in a fight. The Three Outlaw Samurai are of course the former but if you were using a game system that didn't say, involve morale, even they would fail to the faceless hordes. Instead, when the Three Outlaws prove their merit, and do it quickly and with style, those who aren't 'professional', such as hired ronin, tend to flee, or breakaway and reform.

Status Unchanged: In Seven Samurai, one of the classics of the genre, even though the heroes have triumphed at the end of the movie, things haven't really changed. The peasants are going to continue to have a hard time of things just without the bandits. The samurai who are dead will get no hero burial. Their legends will not live on. Here, despite the broken promises of the magistrate and despite all those killed, the peasants don't rise up, the world doesn't change. The Three Outlaws survive and go onward to new adventures but the world remains much as it was at the start of the film.

Wandering Ronin: The initial meeting between Shiba and the peasants occurs because Shiba is a wandering ronin. The other two he eventually teams with, are also wandering ronin, even though initially one of them is a retainer for the magistrate. Problem with being a ronin working for a corrupt magistrate is that you've completely expendable.  In many ways, role playing games are built off of the whole concept of wandering adventurer so much so that these adventurers have come to jokingly be called 'murder hobos'.

Three Outlaw Samurai is worthy of being considered a classic of the genre and its many twists and turns can easily be incorporated into most types of role playing games.

IMDb entry found here.

Wiki entry found here.