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Criterion brings Hideo Gosha's first film to high-definition, proving that these on-screen outlaws aren't as rough-and-tumble as they should be....
Criterion / 95 Minutes / 1964 / Unrated / Street Date: February 14, 2012
Three Outlaw Samurai isn't so much about whiz-bang action sequences as it is about long, often languid build-ups to them. Director Hideo Gosha (Sword of the Beast) approaches the material here as a story-constructor interested in - no, intent on - keeping an audience baited for a payoff. After all, the best Kurosawa movies take a solid half-hour before anything exceptionally major starts to churn, and in a similar style, Gosha lets the simple narrative of Three Outlaw Samurai simmer rather than boil until its climax.
This ends up backfiring a bit, though, because once the film delivers the sword fighting that its chanbara genre demands, it doesn't really add up to all that much. Gosha proves with his steady pacing and deliberate mood throughout the film that he has a gallant control over the medium, but once one looks at Three Outlaw Samurai in hindsight, the entire endeavor seems vacant of any major dramatic or action-centered import. In short: It's all build-up, no pay-off.
The movie focuses on a cranky wanderer of a ronin (Tetsuro Tamba), who one day finds himself intertwined with the actions of a pair of samurai (Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira) who have been enlisted to kill some peasants who have kidnapped a local bigwig's daughter. So much of Three Outlaw Samurai follows Tamba's haughty reluctance to have anything to do with the affair - he basically dances around any decision to participate with the samurai or not for an hour - but once the cause impels him, blood starts a-spewin'.
Three Outlaw Samurai is thin enough of a film that one wonders why Criterion didn't set it into an Eclipse box set or something equivocal to the studio's Rebel Samurai collection. As Gosha's first picture, it's fascinating, and audio/video quality on this Blu-ray Disc is exceptional, but even Criterion itself recognizes that it's not of equal importance to their other high-def titles (it's priced ten dollars cheaper than the majority of its other BD titles).