Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Samurai Pirate (1963)

Samurai Pirate (Dai tozoku) makes an interesting comparison with Hammer’s The Devil-Ship Pirates which I watched a few days ago. Both were low-budget pirate adventure movies made in the early 60s, but as films they couldn’t be more different. Samurai Pirate is more like an Italian peplum or sword and sandal epic, but with pirates. In fact it’s so much like the Italian peplum genre of the late 50s and early 60s so I feel sure the director and the scriptwriter must have been watching lots of Hercules and Maciste movies. Samurai Pirate was released in the US as The Lost World of Sinbad, and for once the ludicrous renaming of foreign movies for the US market almost makes sense. This movie owes as much to Sinbad as it does to any Japanese legend or Japanese movie genre. Although there isn’t actually any lost world!

Luzon is a bandit accused of piracy who decides he might as well become an actual pirate. His first voyage ends in disaster, his ship is wrecked and his treasure stolen, and he is washed upon the shore of an unnamed kingdom. He falls in with bandits, but then fate steps in as he catches a glimpse of the beautiful Princes Yaya (played by Mie Hama who is best known to western audiences as Kissy Suzuki in the 1967 James Bond flick You Only Live Twice) and he falls in love. He talks his way into the palace, only to be caught up in deadly intrigue. The Prime Minister is plotting to poison the king and marry the princess, and in order to facilitate this he also plans to murder the Chinese prince to whom the princess is betrothed. Luzon hopes to save the princess, with the aid of some bumbling bandits and a sex-crazed holy man who is also a moderately competent magician.

It’s a mix of action, comedy, fantasy, horror and romance with just a dash of sex, and it has all the ingredients any reasonable fan of adventure movies could ask for - a lovable rogue as the hero, a beautiful princess, an evil witch, a kindly (if lecherous) magician, a suitably evil villain and his equally wicked mistress, a sexy bandit queen and pirates. It has a very very cool pirate ship, some reasonable action sequences (just don’t expect the level of spectacle you get in later Asian martial arts and swordplay films), and some cheesy but amusing special effects. And it has Toshirô Mifune in the lead role, someone with real charisma and acting skills.

The sets and costumes are fairly impressive, and it was filmed in colour and in Toho Studio’s version of Cinemascope. It looks good, and the emphasis is very much on fun. To make things really confusing, it’s also been released as The Great Thief and The Great Bandit. It’s available on DVD in Region 4, but seems like it might be more difficult to find elsewhere. This is not a movie with any pretensions to being a major work like The Seven Samurai . But if you’re a fan of the Italian peplum genre and you like pirates you’re unlikely to be disappointed by Samurai Pirate.

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