Quentin Tarantino, meet Hiroyuki Nakano. Oh, wait a minute. Sorry, my mistake. You’ve already met. Well, can I introduce you to Kinji Fukasaku? Oh, sorry, that’s right. You’ve met him too. In fact, Quentin, you know almost everyone in this room, don’t you? Ah well, go and mingle. But just so you know, your cat is out of the bag now. You’ve been mining Asian movies for ideas for years, haven’t you? Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
As for the rest of you Tarantino fans out there, if you haven’t done so already, meet Samurai Fiction – a delight of a movie rivaled only by Kurusawa’s Sanjuro. Nobody could doubt the absolute awesomeness of a good Japanese martial arts flick – but likewise, nobody watching one could doubt that these samurai seriously need to chill out and take a five minute break. Well, Kurusawa in Sanjuro and Nakano in Samurai Fiction give us that break, poking a little fun at samurai seriousness while not denying us our martial movement fix for the day. Evidently Tarantino was as delighted as the rest of us by these and other great Asian martial arts films – and he plagiarizes them – oops, I mean pays homage to them – shamelessly.
Samurai Fiction’s opening titles, in which samurai performing kata are silhouetted against a red background, were in turn satirized in blue & black in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. Also, Tarantino used Hotei’s famous instrumental track “Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai” (“Battle Without Honor or Humanity” – the title of a classic yakuza movie by Kinji Fukasaku, a major influence on Tarantino) as background music for Kill Bill Vol. 1. Hotei played Kazamatsuri in Samurai Fiction and composed its soundtrack.
Tarantino admits that he gets his ideas from old movies mainly Asian and anyone with any knowledge of both movies would see that Tarantino takes names, significant parts of stories and other elements from Asian cinema. When asked about plagiarizing ideas from other movies, he stated, “I lift ideas from other great films just like every other great filmmaker.” Is that why the ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs was STOLEN from Django? Or why one of the fighting scenes in Kill Bill Vol. 1 is basically an exact copy of a scene from Samurai Fiction? Those are more than some pretty big ideas.
That said, let’s get down to business. The film was directed by Hiroyuki Nakano and it is almost entirely black-and-white, and follows a fairly standard plotline for a comedy and jidaigeki samurai film, but the presence of Tomoyasu Hotei’s rock-and-roll soundtrack separates it from the films it was inspired by, such as the works of Akira Kurosawa. A loose spinoff was released in 2001, as Red Shadow.
While the film is nearly entirely in black-and-white, paying homage to older samurai movies, this allows for the artistic and dramatic use of color; this is most noticeable whenever a character is killed, and the screen flashes red for a moment. Color is used to dramatic effect at the beginning and end of the film as well to focus the audience in what they are watching.
The plot centers on Inukai Heishiro (Fukikoshi Mitsuru), the son of a clan officer. One of his clan’s most precious heirlooms, a sword given them by the Shogun, has been stolen by the samurai Kazamatsuri (Tomoyasu Hotei). Against his father’s advice, Heishiro insists on retrieving the sword himself. His father sends two ninja after him to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.
Kazamatsuri wounds Heishiro, and kills one of his companions. The young noble ends up staying with an older samurai (Morio Kazama) and his daughter Koharu (Tamaki Ogawa) while he heals from his wound and plans his next move. The older samurai tries to dissuade him from fighting, but Heishiro’s honor won’t allow him to leave Kazamatsuri alive. The older samurai, who turns out to be the master Hanbei Mizogushi, convinces him to fight Kazamatsuri by throwing rocks rather than with swords.
Meanwhile Kazamatsuri settles for a few days at a gambling house owned by Lady Okatsu (Mari Atsuki), who falls in love with him. Then one night one of the ninja sent to protect Heishiro bribes her to poison his sake for one thousand gold. She does, but Kazamatsuri tastes the poison and kills Okatsu. He then kidnaps Koharu in an attempt to get the master Mizoguchi to fight him.
Mizoguchi reveals to Heishiro that he killed Koharu’s father, and has since never drawn his sword on another man, despite his immense skill. They then go to find Kazamatsuri and rescue Koharu. While Mizoguchi stalls Kazamatsuri, Heishiro takes Koharu aside and says he will marry her if Mizoguchi wins. Kazamatsuri fights Mizoguchi, who only draws his sword after his opponent destroys his wooden sword. He then disarms Kazamatsuri near a cliff. Kazamatsuri, admitting defeat, commits suicide by jumping off the cliff. Heishiro and the others go to the bottom, where there is no sign of Kazamatsuri’s body, but Koharu spots the stolen sword at the bottom of the river, where Heishiro retrieves it.
Flash forward one year. Heishiro has married Koharu, the sword is restored, and Mizoguchi is now an official in Heishiro’s clan.
The film has a number of inside jokes and allusions. For example, the stolen sword that is at the center of the plot was a personal possession of Toshirō Mifune, the star of many of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. One of Heishiro’s closest friends is named Kurosawa.
Between the rock and roll background and Hotei’s portrayal of Kazamatsuri’s cool disdain for the skills of the bumbling samurai who pursue him, it’s impossible not to become lost in admiration at Hotei’s ability to slide effortlessly and apparently in a state of total relaxation, from noncombat to combat situations — for example, when he is confronted by young Heishiro and his companions, Hotei as Kazamatsuri is so unconcerned by their presence that he turns coolly away to take a leak by the side of the road before responding to their taunts and challenges.
So, Tarantino fans, and those who think American cinema is the cat’s ass, why don’t you smell an Asian one? Why do I watch so many Asian movies? Apparently what I’m really doing is watching the future of American moviemaking, since American directors are so bankrupt of ideas that they have no recourse but to follow foreign filmmakers meekly as they lead them around by the nose.
February 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm
This isn’t really a comment on Samurai Fiction (which rocks–literally!)–but is somewhat related–I just happened onto this discussion of the true meaning of kung fu and thought I would share it:
For those of you who don’t have time to read it, at least note the first few paragraphs:
“In a 2005 news report about the Shaolin Temple, the Buddhist monastery in China well-known for its martial arts, a monk addressed a common misunderstanding: ‘Many people have a misconception that martial arts is about fighting and killing,’ the monk was quoted as saying, ‘It is actually about improving your wisdom and intelligence.’
“Indeed, the concept of kung fu (or gongfu) is known to many in the West only through martial arts fighting films like ‘Enter the Dragon,’ ‘Drunken Master’ or more recently, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’ In the cinematic realm, skilled, acrobatic fighters like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li are seen as kung fu masters.’
“The predominant orientation of traditional Chinese philosophy is the concern about how to live one’s life, rather than finding out the truth about reality.
“But as the Shaolin monk pointed out, kung fu embodies much more than fighting. In fact any ability resulting from practice and cultivation could accurately be said to embody kung fu. There is a kung fu of dancing, painting, cooking, writing, acting, making good judgments, dealing with people, even governing. During the Song and Ming dynasties in China, the term kung fu was widely used by the neo-Confucians, the Daoists and Buddhists alike for the art of living one’s life in general, and they all unequivocally spoke of their teachings as different schools of kung fu.
This broad understanding of kung fu is a key (though by no means the only key) through which we can begin to understand traditional Chinese philosophy and the places in which it meets and departs from philosophical traditions of the West. As many scholars have pointed out, the predominant orientation of traditional Chinese philosophy is the concern about how to live one’s life, rather than finding out the truth about reality.”
And consider also the following quote from the last paragraph: “The kung fu approach does not entail that might is right. This is one reason why it is more appropriate to consider kung fu as a form of art.”
March 4, 2011 at 4:25 pm
Et tu dude? First Dr. H destroys the magic of the Oscars and now you take down Tarantino. Dude, you’re making me depressed here.
March 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm
Look Jude I am a Tarantino fan myself believe me. I call it like I see it though and am merely pointing out that he may not be the creative “wonder kid” he is made out to be. He is more like a manager–taking parts of different movies and putting them together. I defy you to name ONE of his movies that I can not find significant parts of it previously done in Asian cinema. Go on, give it a try, I dare you.
March 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm
Oh by the way good luck on that challenge. I’ll bet you two dvd’s of your choice (and vice-versa) on this. Yes I am throwing down the gauntlet.
March 6, 2011 at 11:53 pm
Dude, dude, dude. You are messing with the wrong guy. You didn’t say what length movie you had in mind…so take this–1995, Dance Me to the Edge of Love, and Tarantino stars in it himself!
Dance me to the edge of two new DVDS…top that my man.
March 7, 2011 at 12:49 am
I am going to have to tell you to do better than that 6 minute short, he did not direct the film (if you can call it that) and it is based on a Leonard Cohen song–again nothing he created with the $10,000 budget–not really his film now is it. Try one that was actually released to the public more than 6 minutes long and was directed by him. He often makes appearances in his movies by the way, but as a fan I thought you might have known that.
March 8, 2011 at 11:16 am
I have to speak up on Jude’s behalf. JPFMovies, the gauntlet challenge was for “one of his [Tarantino’s] movies.” You never said he had to direct, you never said it couldn’t be based on a song, you never said it had to be released to the public. I think you owe Jude some DVDs…
On a related note, I was delighted to see a Tarantino film with no blood and guts in it, even if it was (maybe especially because it was) only six minutes long. But then I’m not really a Tarantino fan…anyway, thanks, Jude!
March 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm
Well using your logic then Tarantino’s home movies with his children would qualify as “one of his movies.” I would hope you consider such a proposition absurd. When I laid the gauntlet down, I think we all understood what “one of his [Tarantino’s] movies” meant. Obviously, I should have consulted an attorney to draft a comprehensive post challenging Jude et al to prove me wrong. Perhaps next time.
March 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm
Yes, I was wondering why you didn’t…
March 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm
I like it. Reminds me of the altercation we had about Bridge on the River Kwai .Guys fight fair.
March 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm
By the way what was reservoir dogs based upon.
March 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm
The movie Tarantino “borrowed” from to make Reservoir Dogs was City on Fire (1987) directed by Ringo Lam and staring Chow Yun-fat. Tarantino’s love for Asian cinema is well known and he makes no effort to hide it–nor should he.
March 10, 2011 at 9:24 am
well thank you Bonnie for the spirited defense…but I can handle this, no worries.
Dude, chill out. I’ll give you a pass on Dance Me to the Edge of Love (even though we both know I won it). But I don’t mind giving you a pass because I have another movie up my sleeve…that’s right…My Best Friend’s Birthday. So put that in your pipe, but don’t inhale.
June 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm
Nice one JP! I haven’t seen this film yet, but I have seen plenty of others that I know have fed the movies of Tarantino and others. I don’t mind western directors nicking ideas (or should that be “paying homage”). It just gives me the irrits when they market their films as ground breaking and are hailed as being original, and you end up watching material lifted from Asian movies that were made 2 decades ago (and which still are far more dynamic films than the american rip offs).
June 15, 2011 at 5:17 am
Dangerous you could not have taken the words out of my mouth better–Tarantino is especially guilty of this though. His “Reservoir Dogs” based on City of Fire with Chow Yun Fat, Kill Bill V-1 and II don’t even go there that one is doesn’t even try to hide it–even referencing Shogun Assassins II (part of the Lone Wolf and Cub Series) and naming the great sword maker Hatori Hanzo (after the great Iga Ninja involving such films as Owl’s Castle and having his own series in the 1980;s)
June 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm
It’s not just us. Here are some nice quotes, JP:
“It is simply a poorly conceived homage that, despite the huge number of intertextual references, fails to reveal anything new about the genre in the process.” p. 251
“In Tarantino’s film, it (the use of monochrome a la Chang Cheh) is unmotivated by anything happening on screen and is another intertextual reference included in the movie without consideration for the reasons the technique was originally employed in the source material. There is no attempt at deconstruction, merely duplication.” p. 252
That was from Chasing Dragons by David West.
You can tell I really don’t like the film too much.
June 17, 2011 at 4:04 am
Dangerous I hope you are talking about Kill Bill not Samurai Fiction! I can see how an audience that is knowledgeable about Asian cinema may not have the best taste in their mouths after watching a Kill Bill and your quotes are all dead on in particular the one about paying homage I like it because it gets Asian cinema a little more well deserved recognition. BTY are your computer problems over?
June 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm
I am definitely talking about Kill Bill. My computer problems are nearly a thing of the past thank God.
August 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm
Taking time out of writing my (slowly unfolding) Hero review to note another Samurai Fiction connection: Hotei also, though I won’t say what part he played (watch and find out), was in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie that JP has for some inexplicable reason not yet reviewed. What kind of operation is he running? Inquiring minds would like to know…
January 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm
How can he plagiarize himself? and Django came out almost 20 years after Reservoir Dogs
March 21, 2015 at 10:22 am
Django came almost 30 years before Reservoir Dogs.
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April 7, 2015 at 12:24 am
I think they mean the re-make