The opening scenes of Ichi, and indeed most of the first hour of the film, are so well-assembled the film itself seems to be holding its breath. A woman swathed in heavy furs stumbles her way through falling snow thick enough to drown in. She stumbles, and loses her cane, and from the way she gropes for it we can see that cane is her lifeline — not just in this storm, but every other time as well. She’s blind.
Next shot. She stands at the door of a house — an inn, maybe. She plays her shamisen, waiting for someone inside to hear. They open the door. They squint at her. Shoo her off. Slam the door in her face. She stands there for another long moment before dragging herself off into the snow again. This movie, I thought, is in no hurry: it’s willing to linger and make us feel what this woman feels.
And so the first half or so of Ichi unfolds, with the care and patience of a great samurai-era character study like Kurosawa’s Red Beard or Takashi Miike’s Sabu. Everything, from the elegiac and beautiful score by former Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard to even the abrupt bursts of violence (they’re the punctuation, not the sentences themselves), seems just right. Maybe this would turn out to be the samurai story that they never quite seem to be able to make as of late. Then the movie begins to walk backwards in its own steps, to retreat from being really great and settling instead for being merely pretty good. But hey, that’s a lot more than we end up with most of the time. Read more
sa·mu·rai n. 1: military nobility of feudal Japan; from verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society
cham·ploo n. 1: Okinawan term for “something mixed”
Attitude. Amazing how so much meaning can be soaked up into a single word. When someone says samurai attitude, or hip-hop attitude, you know what they mean. The former is Forty-Seven Ronin and Rising Sun and Shining Steel. The latter is Jump Around Y’All and Up In This Beeyotch and Cash Rules Everything Around Me. The two barely belong in the same sentence, let alone the same show. Well, here they are. Deal.
Samurai Champloo is all about how attitudes collide, how cultures and sensibilities mix and create something new. It is itself a whole great big jumble of things: a road movie, an anti-romantic triangle (most of the main characters can’t stand each other, hilariously so), an experiment in combining past and present aesthetic sensibilities, a period samurai adventure, a comedy, a drama, a stone cold classic. And it gets all the better each time you come back to it — deeper, smarter, and funnier. It’s not just a gimmick showcase.
Watch a DJ at work: he drops the needle seemingly at random, backs up, overlays beats from two records you’d never think to play on top of each other. The same thing happens here right from the first episode, where we start with an execution in progress and then jump back 300 years — er, 24 hours — to see How It All Got Started. And it starts almost like a setup for a joke: These two guys walk into a bar … Read more
There are few things in this job better than starting a series you know nothing about, and quickly realizing it’s a winner. So it went with The Story of Saiunkoku’s first set, and so it has gone with the full nine-disc coffer of the first season, courtesy of the good folks at FUNimation. What might seem from the ad copy and the design work to be pure romantic fluff is anything but. It has the depth and complexity of an epic novel: it keeps you absorbed all the way through, and when it’s done you want more. (Anime: Drugs Would Be Cheaper.)
Set in a fictitious country patterned mainly after Imperial China at its most colorful and turbulent, Saiunkoku’s main character isn’t a warrior or a king — rather, it’s the daughter of a once-great family that has since fallen on hard times and disfavor. Her name is Shurei Hong, and she’s been put into the difficult position of having to keep the domestic wheels turning in lieu of her hapless father. Money is tight, opportunities scarce, and options limited — especially for a woman in a society largely dominated and steered by men. Small wonder that when she’s offered a chance to better herself, she leaps for it, and ends up vaulting clear over the rooftops. Read more