Monday, May 22, 2023

SAMURAI WOLF 1 (1967) & SAMURAI WOLF 2: HELL CUT 2 (1967) (Film Movement Blu-ray Review)

SAMURAI WOLF 1 & (1966-1967)

Label: Film Movement
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 73 Minutes 47 Seconds (Samurai Wolf) & 71 Minutes 52 Seconds (Samurai Wolf 2) 
Audio: Uncompressed Japanese 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Hideo Gosha
Cast: Isao Natsuyagi, Ryôhei Uchida, Junko Miyazono, Tatsuo Endo, Junkichi Orimoto, Takashi Tabata / Isao Natsuyagi, Ko Nishimura, Ichiro Nakatani, Bin Amatsu, Yuko Kusonoki

Hideo Gosha’s fantastic spaghetti western-influenced samurai film Samurai Wolf (1966) stars Isao Natsuyagi (Goyokin) as wandering and perpetually hungry noble-hearted samurai Kiba, who like the Italian western anti-heroes ends up wandering into a small town and getting caught-up in a local kerfuffle. In this first film Kiba encounters and dispatches a pair of highway robbers and agrees to assist a beautiful blind woman named Ochise 
who runs a local shipping company that's been beset by the criminal elements in the area, including formidable hired-swordsman named Akizuki Sanai (Ryôhei Uchida) that's been brought in to incept Ochise's latest contract - a large delivery of gold pieces. The flick is gorgeously shot and has some terrific monochromatic bloodshed and arterial spray, plus some interesting baddies including a mute killer with pet money, and a harmonica infused hybrid score that makes no bones about it's spaghetti-western influence. 

In the sequel Samurai Wolf 2 (1967) Kiba the "furious wolf" returns for more honorable adventures, the film starts off with him rescuing a young woman named Oteru (Rumiko Fuji) from a trio of nasty men, but before he can ask her her name she runs off into the wilderness. Later he comes across a group of men escorting caged prisoners to trial, among them the ronin Magobei (Ko Nishimura) who remind Kibo of his father as well as a diabolical woman named Oren (Yuko Kusunoki) who is trouble from the start. Kibo joins the escort and along the way the ronin tells Kibo that he was arrested for murder after being betrayed by Higasas the corrupt owner of a goldmine who wants him dead, and who also happens to be Oteru's father. This time around we also get some interesting backstory for Kibo with flashbacks to his father who was a wandering ronin who travelled from village to village challenging dojos for money. Like father like son, here Kibo ends up defeating students of a local dojo and becomes the target of the dojos vengeful master who challenges Kibo to a clash of swords, which he accepts. Again we have a very spaghetti-western flavored story here, which the tasty soundtrack bares witness to, and the fight sequences are even more intense, with a story that is more developed and meatier, also chock full of betrayal and tragedy. 

Director Hideo Gosha (Violent Streets) strips these films down to the bare essential elements and forgoes a ton of character and extraneous plot elements to get down to the nitty gritty of it, which I appreciated, they're chock full of stylish sword fights, and the action is shot with a pulpy style that appealed to me, with some of the fight scenes slowed down for dramatic effect with the sound dropping away momentarily, which heightened the tension quite a bit. 

Audio/Video: Both Samurai Wolf films debut on Blu-ray in North America from Film Movement Classics in 1080p HD widescreen (2.35:1) sourced from 2K scans of the original film elements. The black and white image looks quite good, contrast and grayscale is pleasing throughout and grain is left intact and unmolested. Audio comes by way of uncompressed Japanese 2.0 dual-mono with optional English subtitles, it sounded just fine, a bit flat and appropriately vintage, just the way it should sound. 

Extras kick-off with the 16-min Outlaw Director - Hideo Gosha featurette with Tomoe Gosha, wherein the director's daughters, speaks about her father's transition from TV to film, how that was a risky move at the time and he was treated poorly because of it. She also mention her father's adoration of Akira Kurosawa, spaghetti westerns and Clint Eastwood, and his style of shooting the sword fighting sequences, and how his days of working in radio informed his use of sound. She calls the Samurai Wolf films "Mt. Fuji Westerns" and noting that lead Isao Natsuyagi was "a real physical specimen", and that her father had a thing for hanging scenes. We also get HD Trailers for Violent Streets (1:31), Samurai Wolf (1:31), Samurai Wolf 2 (1:24). The first film also get an info-packed Audio commentary by Chris Poggiali, co-author of These Fists Break Bricks on Samurai Wolf, as I am quite a novice when it comes to samurai films I appreciated his enthusiasm for the flick and for the genre in general. 

The single-disc arrives in a clear keepcase with a two-sided non-reversible sleeve of artwork, plus we get a Slipcover with the same artwork wrap, inside a 20-Page Illustrated Collector's Booklet with a new essay by Robin Gatto, author of Hideo Gosha, cinéaste sans maître, as wel as cast and crew credits, and restoration credits. 

Special Features: 
- Outlaw Director - Hideo Gosha featurette with Tomoe Gosha (15:39) 
- Audio commentary by Chris Poggiali, co-author of These Fists Break Bricks on Samurai Wolf 
- 20-page booklet with a new essay by Robin Gatto, author of Hideo Gosha, cinéaste sans maître

Screenshots from the Film Movement Classics Blu-ray: