Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kiichi Nakai in 'Samurai Gangsters'

At the bustling Tokyo International Film Festival today, I got to snatch a vacant seat—which was kind of easy, 'cos strangely very few people were actually there—at the screening of the new vehicle for Kiichi Nakai.

The guy is one of the favored actors of this el drabbo blog. Long(ish) story why I have such an ongoing affection for the guy: think a touching dramatic turn in Yojiro Takita's Mibu gishi den (When The Last Sword Is Drawn, 2003), and a side-splitting twist as a cowardly samurai boss with ill-fated fame in his tea-leaves (something to do with a bunch of 47 ronin), in the 'Samurai Cellular' episode of Tales of the Unusual (2000).

He also kicked arse as the most compelling ninja perhaps ever on screen in the flawed, but passably brilliant, Fukuro no shiro (Owl's Castle, 1999).

Anyway, Nakai's new movie is titled Jirocho Sangokushi ( Samurai Gangsters), and relates the tale—surprise, surprise—of a bunch of kind-hearted yakuza headed by Nakai's steely, yet compassionate title character, Jirocho. Think jidaigeki comedy/drama, with moments both hilarious and tear-threatening. Nakai doesn't disappoint, and neither does another fave, journeyman actor Ittoku Kishibe (Zatoichi).

While nowhere near the territory of Owl's Castle, with plot-holes and moments bordering on mundane and directionless, overall I loved the beast. There are some wild action set-pieces, and the vamping, Elvis-looking main villain is a complete hoot; it's a damn shame he wasn't utilized more.

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