Samurai Zombie Review
A family’s vacation to the seemingly tranquil Eight Spears Village soon turns sour when their car hits a blood-soaked wandering stranger. No sooner do they try to come to terms with what they’ve just witnessed, that they’re hijacked by two fugitives who gun down the mysterious man in white, before seizing the head of the family at gun point and instructing him to drive on. As the family’s car moves deeper into the wooded area, the satellite navigation system goes haywire and the vehicle turns. The father has no choice but to head out and seek help as the gun-toting bank robbers take his wife and children hostage. But the father’s trip is in vain, and soon his departure feeds the hunger of a long dormant spirit hell-bent on revenge.
Literally plucked off the streets by a then-unknown Ryuhei Kitamura to star in the 2000 cult zombie actioner Versus, Tak Sakaguchi has since enjoyed some good fortune over the past decade. Not only has he continued working with Kitamura as both actor and action choreographer, he’s also managed to show off his directing talents, with Yoroi being his second feature.
Samurai Zombie as it’s otherwise known, joins the pantheon of grudge-themed horrors with a cautionary tale of karma. A film, then, which initially appears to have some nobility to it, though despite better intentions wins points for style and zaniness (unsurprisingly) over plotting. The narrative - penned by Ryuhei Kitamura - is one of rambling uncertainty, perturbed by its constant regurgitating of the film’s central message, while leaving characterization often underdeveloped and played to heavy-handed effect. Sakaguchi especially places far too much faith on the audience in his wringing out sympathy for the seemingly inspired Bonnie and Clyde duo whom end up leading much of the story over that of the family we first meet, while his police officers are typical bumbling fools. But the overall
Spiritually Samurai Zombie feels much like Versus, not only in conveying its overall message, but so too aesthetically, with the blue-tinted woodland and tucked away roadside shacks going toward lending an atmosphere of certain dread where screams goes unheard. Similarly, the proud protégé of Kitamura throws in a manner of quirky camera tilts and quick edits to further disorientate and second guess the viewer. And, sure enough, despite some bouts of slow pacing, Samurai Zombie does deliver the gory goods, and when it does so it’s more of the manga-like violence readily associated with Kitamura’s earlier works and those employed by Sakaguchi in his 2008 directorial debut - Be a Man! Samurai School; here heads pop off like champaign corks, with a tongue-in-cheek vitality that the film has no trouble sustaining throughout its welcomed run time.
Disappointingly, Samura Zombie’s Region 2 outing looks a bit rubbish. The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer starts off a bit worryingly in showing an unusual amount of dust and dirt, making the film appear twenty years older than it is. This clears up a little by the time the opening is done away with, but we’re still left with a fairly soft image that doesn’t offer the best black levels and contrast on account of the intended blue tint which shrouds the entire film and the unfortunate NTSC-PAL foibles.
The Japanese DD2.0 soundtrack fares better, though it’s a bit on the low register. What really hinders both the audio and video is the absolutely shocking English subtitles. Hard-matted to the print and reminicent of those old white Hong Kong subs that used to blend into the background, we also have some very poor and consistent grammatical errors. A very poor show from MVM indeed, which warrants an extra point being knocked off the video score.
There are no bonus materials, save for other trailers.
In crossing genres, Tak Sakaguchi’s latest effort proves to be a picture of highly mixed sentiments, where comedy and tragedy perversely work in tandem to provide an at times oddly affecting story about facing destiny. Fans of Sakaguchi’s previous work and that of Ryuhei Kitamura should find plenty to smile about here. It’s just a shame that the DVD presentation itself is well below par.