Samurai Commando Mission 1549 Review

G.I. Samurai (released onto DVD in the UK last year by Optimum Releasing as part of their Sonny Chiba collection) was a gloriously entertaining slice of eighties hokum. Pure nonsense, it was a sci-fi/action movie hybrid which saw a modern day Japanese military unit unwittingly sent back to the 16th century where they were able to demonstrate their superior firepower over the two-hour plus running time. Samurai Commando, a 2005 remake, reconfigures this plotline only slightly; the essentials remain the same, yet here the focus is on the rescue mission put into action to prevent our time travellers from irreparably changing the future.

Though much shorter than G.I. Samurai and, during its initial stages, much pacier (the initial time travel incident occurs prior to the opening credits) Samurai Commando nonetheless feels the need to expand on many of the original’s ideas. The scientific element now has to be explained as fully as possible for some unknown reason (something to do with solar activity, apparently) plus the film is treated to a leading female character in a bid to downplay G.I. Samurai’s overt machismo. Furthermore, there’s also a greater emphasis on the drama as opposed to the action meaning that we’re stuck with a high number of po-faced, excessively serious moments and various unnecessary conflicts. And yet given the various CGI additions, not to mention the general “bigness” of the project in terms of weaponry, effects and the like, it all sits somewhat awkwardly with the overall mood.

Indeed, Samurai Commando - much like G.I. Samurai - is nothing more than a lightweight action, yet these additions suggest that the filmmakers are somewhat embarrassed by the fact. Whereas the 80s version never had any problem with simply being as trashily entertaining as possible, here the film continually braces itself from going quite so far. Even on its own terms it can’t help but seem like much the lesser effort and as such is only likely to appeal to fans of the original curious enough how it’s all been reinvented twenty-plus years down the line. Anyone else is best advised to seek out the Sonny Chiba version and find themselves more thoroughly (if somewhat guiltily) entertained.

The Disc

Gaining a release in the UK through Momentum Asia, Samurai Commando comes to DVD in decent, if not quite perfect condition. The film itself comes across well enough, here present in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1), anamorphically enhanced and thankfully is not an NTSC-PAL conversion. That said, the image does occasionally come across as a little soft and muted, but then this could very well have been inherent in the film’s production and as such fully intentional. As for the soundtrack, here we find both DD5.1 and DTS options, each of which handles the dialogue and sundry explosions, etc. especially well. Admittedly, differences between the two are ultimately negligible, though the DTS does perhaps pip the other when it comes providing the enveloping mix.

The extras are on the whole intriguing, though it’s doubtful that you’d return to too many that often. The ‘Cast Greeting’ featurette is actually a video diary following the military unit which was employed to turn up at the film’s premiere - something of a rarity and as such more than interesting enough. The various interviews - with the cast, director and military advisor, and screenwriter - are the usual vague affairs and disappointingly touch on the film itself very little. Rather it’s the physical and technical side of things which are given the greater mention and as such tend to provoke a loss of interest early on. Rounding off the package we also find the original theatrical trailer. (As with the main feature, all extras are in Japanese and come with optional English subtitles.)

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