I picked up a copy of Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai the other day. I didn’t know anything about the film, but hey: samurai. It tells the story of three ronin who work together to protect a group of peasants. If this sounds familiar, it is basically the same plot as Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But otherwise, the films have little in common. In Kurosawa’s film, the samurai are honorable men; In Gosha’s, not so much.
The film starts with a sequence that is very much like another Kurosawa film: Yojimbo. Sakon Shiba comes upon three peasants who are holding the magistrate’s daughter hostage. At first, it looks like he is going to free the girl, but then he changes him mind when he finds out the peasants haven’t raped the girl and are only holding her to get the magistrate to listen to their complaints about staving to death. But this doesn’t cause him to help them—at least at first; he just hangs out to see the fireworks.
The second samurai, Kyojuro Sakura is first fighting for the magistrate, but switches sides in the middle of a battle. And the third samurai, Einosuke Kikyo, is the most cynical of all, working for the magistrate without really doing anything. He only switches sides when the magistrate tries to have him killed.
The characters are not nearly as complex as we get from Kurosawa. But they have enough quirks to still be fun to watch. Sakura, for instance, kills Oine’s husband on the way to the battle before he has switched sides. When he finds out, he feels terrible about it and tries to make amends. As a result, a romance starts between the two. It gets complicated from there.
The main thing about the film is that it is visually stunning, but not in a classical way. It shows all the signs of being shot quickly, but by a brilliant group. This isn’t too surprising, though: this was Gosha’s first feature film after being well established as a TV director.
Unfortunately, the DVD comes with no extras, commentary, whatever. You can read more about it at the Criterion Collection website, Three Outlaw Samurai: The Disloyal Bunch. But mostly, I recommend just watching the film. It is a lot of fun.
Here is the idiosyncratic trailer for the film that combines the story and the telling of the story: