Samurai Western Movies

Wednesday, April 27 by William Gish

Samurai western movies: an interesting genus. Species of the genus Samuraicus westernus filmii include the rare genuine hybrid and the more common two-headed species in which both a Japanese and Western version of the beast is present. These movies run the gamut from classics to pure trash and will blow your mind in some many ways we’d have to start cutting off other people’s fingers and tapping them to our own hands to even dream of counting them.

  1. “Sukiyaki Western Django” is sheer madness. This samurai western is so ridiculous its hard to get people to take you seriously when you’re describing. First, it’s a cast of Japanese actors playing cowboys. The film is in English, but hardly any of the Japanese actors speak English, they just known the dialogue phonetically, so it’s sort of like watching a really poorly dubbed monster movie. The Japanese cowboys are divided into samurai clans and use all manner of weapons on one another, including revolvers, machine guns, crossbows, dynamite and of course, samurai swords.
  2. “Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven” is a two-headed beast, flip sides of the same coin. The former is a classic, four-plus hour samurai epic about a group of warriors conscripted to protect a village from a gang of bandits, the latter a western remake of that film starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Borson. Watch the two back-to-back and you’re looking at 315 minutes, or about five hours and 20 minutes of samurai western movie madness.
  3. “Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars” is as another potent samurai western combo pack. “Yojimbo” is a darkly comic Akira Kurosawa film that features, among other things, an infamous shot of a stray dog running down a street with a severed arm in the wake of a devastating battle. “Fistful of Dollars” is a very faithful spaghetti western remake of Kurosawa’s film that stirred some controversy because its director, Sergio Leone, didn’t bother crediting Kurosawa. The situation is rectify (Kurosawa was given a writing credit on “Fistful”) and now film fans can enjoy all the bloody fun spread between the pair.
  4. “Kill Bill” is a little bit samurai film, a little bit western. Huge swaths of the film are heavily indebted to, if not directly stolen from samurai masterpiece “Sword of Doom,” a sinister and bloody film. But Tarantino’s enormous heap of trash – and we mean that in the best possible way, QT – is also hewn in the mold of classic revenge westerns like Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy. Tarantino pay homage to these influences by setting large sections of “Kill Bill” in both the desert of cowboy films and the opulent Japan of samurai films.  
  5. “Star Wars,” as George Lucas has said time and again, was heavily influenced by Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” But it’s also a cowboys in space film, no doubt about it. And why is this? Well, mostly because samurai films and western films are in many ways opposite sides of the same coin. Both concern itinerant warriors in dangerous lands left to their own devices in a world of very evil and powerful men. In the face of such malevolence and brutal sparseness, these films examine grave moral issues – the sword is the soul, the soul is the gun, the gun is the sword, forever and ever into infinity. “Star Wars” is ultimately all of these things, making it both a samurai film and a western film.  

-Will Gish

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