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August 15, 2013

Samurai Pirate


Dai tozoku / The Great Bandit / The Lost World of Sinbad
Senkichi Taniguchi - 1963

I confess - the English language title grabbed me. It's a great title full of promise of action and sword fighting. The movie isn't quite what I imagined, but it's still pretty good. Mifune is neither a samurai nor a pirate, as much as he is an adventurer. Accused of piracy, Sukeza, escapes execution and decides that, OK, he'll be a pirate. He's got a ship and a crew, but not much luck. A storm destroys his ship, and drowns most of the crew. The scourge of the Pacific, The Black Pirate sails by and snatches the treasure chest Sukeza vainly attempts to hold onto. Washed ashore, Sukeza finds himself in a strange country entangled with intrigue at the palace, and catches the attention of the beautiful princess.

As it turns out, Samurai Pirate doesn't resemble either samurai movie or a pirate movie. Between the plot, and the costumes, this is the Toho Studios attempt to make something like an Arabian Nights fantasy, the kind of film that was a staple of Universal Pictures in the Forties and Fifties. Aside from taking place in some kind of mythical pan-Asian country, there is the rivalry between a good wizard and a bad witch. The good wizard isn't entirely pure hearted, easily distracted as he is by a woman's well rounded breasts. The bad witch, known as Granny, is hardly someone you'd want for an elderly relative, with her concoctions of poisons, and ability to stare at people, turning them into stone. There's also the court advisor who schemes to take over the throne, and dozens of attractive young women kidnapped to become dancing slaves.

Director Senkichi Taniguchi is not a filmmaker with the kind of reputation of Toho best buds Akira Kurosawa or Ishiro Honda. Maybe turning down the chance to direct the original Godzilla wasn't a great career movie. What seemed funny at the time, was the recutting and dubbing of a spy film by Woody Allen, transformed to the better known What's Up, Tiger Lily?. From what little I've been able to read, Taniguchi's original Key of Keys is pretty entertaining on its own, but any subtitled viewing is unavailable at this time. Even the website Toho Kingdom doesn't give Taniguchi the kind of love it has for, say, Jun Fukuda.

1963 was a typical year for Toshiro Mifune, with four films released, most famously Kurosawa's High and Low. Frequent Kurosawa co-star Takashi Shimura is also in Samurai Pirate, barely seen in the last few minutes as the king slowly dying of poison. It's worth mentioning that Shimura and Mifune were together in Snow Trail, Taniguchi's film from 1947 that established Mifune as a star in Japan. Samurai Pirate is also notable for the first teaming of future Bond girls Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi. Hama plays the most appropriately named Princess Yaya. It is Kumi Mizuno who almost steals the movie from Mifune and company as Miwa, the female rebel leader, willing to take up the sword to fight with Sukuza.

Other than that it was retitled and dubbed into English, I don't know much about the American release version. I'm assuming some of the bawdier bits involving the breast fixated wizard were trimmed. Judging from the subtitles, the dialogue was not quite so earthy. I'm pretty certain that fifty years ago, when Mifune takes off on a giant kite to invade a castle, the youth of America didn't hear one of the characters express concern if our hero took a leak before taking flight.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 15, 2013 08:34 AM