Okatsu the Fugitive Review
Makabe Okatsu (Junko Miyazono) is set to marry a young samurai by the name of Shinzaburo (Yataro Kitagami), which has made her father Kazue (Akitake Kono) all the more happy having feared she’d remain a single tomboy all her life. Recently though Kazue has caught wind of a contraband tobacco smuggling ring which involves the Numata group and various officials. Top of the list is Shozaimon Shimadaya and castle superintendent Tashiro Judayo (Hisaya Ito), who is eagerly trying to worm his way up the ranks. Kazue warns him not to carry on with his operation and informs him that he possesses a hidden statement of charges which will undoubtedly bring down Judayo in an instant should word get out. Little does Kazue realise that he’s just dug his own grave. Judayo sends his men to ransack the Makabe household and in the process they take Shinzaburo, along with Okatsu and her mother. Kazue’s wife and daughter are then forced to watch as Judayo tries to force the information out of him, while his wife is subsequently subjected to a cruel assault. Okatsu’s parents ultimately meet their fate, which leaves Okatsu in the possession of Judayo - but not for long. She escapes and vows to avenge her parents and the missing Shinzaburo. With the help of ronin Hayato Inugami (Tatsuo Umemiya) who runs a temple orphanage and armed with her trusty sword, Okatsu sets out to destroy the Numata clan and rid her beloved Edo of corrupt baddies.
Okatsu the Fugitive was Nobuo Nakagawa’s penultimate film; he went on to work in television throughout the seventies on a number of Kaidan projects until his swan song The Living Koheji hit theatres in 1982. It was clear then that the director had a great love for ghostly horror tales, the kind of heart which sadly seems missing from the Poisonous Seductress sequels. If Quick-Draw Okatsu was a lazy film then Okatsu the Fugitive is downright, unapologetically lethargic in almost every respect. It’s quite disparaging as to how passive screenwriter Koji Takada’s style had become, and how he misses every single opportunity laid out before him, and with Nakagawa working on a director for hire gig there seems to be very little creative input on his part either. Who knows what went wrong, but here’s a film that had a chance to properly build upon Quick-Draw Okatsu’s foundations, and when viewing it‘s certainly all too easy to formulate an ideal storyline in one‘s head. What could have been an effective sequel becomes yet another tired reworking of not only a very old premise, but also the film that came before it! Sure, there are one or two cosmetic changes, but don’t be fooled - that’s all they are.
And that’s where the real bone of contention lies. At the end of Quick-Draw Okatsu Okatsu had indeed become a fugitive, so it would have made sense to continue her exploits and see where she ended up in this corrupt world, but instead of following her travels in a direct sequel Okatsu the Fugitive discards everything that had led up to its predecessor’s finale and starts afresh with a brand new roster of characters. Bizarrely, however, it has the grace to keep certain names, right down to Okatsu and her family name of Makabe, including the legendary Kogen sword technique which she uses. Perhaps worse is that the film just doesn’t seem to care at this point, and why should it? More to the point why should we? By now we’ve truly seen it all before; there is nothing that the series can offer us any more, having evidently exhausted itself after the first feature. Now it was going through the motions as part of Toei’s relentless pursuit in churning out predictable cinema for the masses. The storyline goes nowhere, it just riffs off the last one: While it loses Tomisaburo Wakayama’s neatly set up bounty hunter, along with Okatsu’s saviour Rui it brings back some of the exact same archetypes. We have Reiko Oshida once more playing a feisty orphan girl living at a temple; her name’s unknown but she seems unmistakably Rui in character, while Hayato Inugami played by Prince of Space himself Tatsuo Umemiya is simply a cheap substitute for the previous Rui. Why, then, did they simply not carry the characters across accordingly and at least make some effort? We have the same bunch of saints and sinners, though as to be expected they’re well performed all round, with a dedicated cast who manage to rise above the sub-standard sub-plots and dull twists, though oddly enough Junko Miyazono has little to do in this final instalment. And while Nakagawa stages his film perfectly well - moving it ever closer to the kind of ultra violence we’d get to see during the seventies exploitation boom - it’s not enough to mask its less-than-routine approach, with an inherent social commentary that frankly isn’t worth discussing because it’s the same as before.
Another solid effort from Synapse. Okatsu the Fugitive’s anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is not unlike the previous one seen for Quick-Draw Okatsu; there are occasional flashes of shimmering and soft areas, but for the most part it’s a very pleasing picture with a good amount of detail and fine colour reproduction.
Sound wise the original Japanese mono is more than capable of doing its job, showing no signs of distortion, while the optional English subtitles once again prove a good translation which is free from errors.
For some reason Chris D doesn’t partake in an audio commentary this time, which frankly is a bit of a relief as I’d honestly have hated to sit through another of similar standing. But that doesn’t leave us with much else, in fact the included trailers, Nakagawa biography and poster galleries have all been carried over from previous releases.
Yea, I know, I’m being unfair, but it’s difficult not to continually question Okatsu the Fugitive; it’s a frustrating close to a series that could have been so much more. Still, Synapse has done a wonderful job in presenting these three features overall, so if you are a fan there’s really no contest.
5 out of 10
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