Three Outlaw Samurai – Film Review

Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) - IMDb

Director: Hideo Gosha

Writers: Keiichi Abe, Eizaburo Shiba, Hideo Gosha

Starring: Tetsuro Tamba, Isamu Nagato, Mikijirō Hira, Yoshiko Kayama, Kyoko Aoi, Junkichi Orimoto, Hisashi Igawa, Kamatari Fujiwara

Rating: ★★★★

Director Hideo Gosha, made his start with TV shows, before moving to feature films. His first feature length film, Three Outlaw Samurai, was actually an origin story for the TV show of the same name that he worked on. The TV show has mostly been lost to time, sadly, but the film still survives and it’s really worth watching as a stand alone story.

Sakon Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba) is a rōnin, a samurai without a Lord, who passes upon a group of rebels who have kidnapped the local Magistrate’s daughter. They are revolting because they want to be heard by their Magistrate, who doesn’t seem to care that the farmers are starving. Sakon is ambivalent towards their cause at first, just looking for a place to stay, but ends up siding with them once the Magistrate shows his true corruption.  

Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) - IMDb

Three Outlaw Samurai is a dark film. This isn’t a story of honour and a Samurai code, it’s about greed and betrayal. The Magistrate won’t listen to the peasant’s demands, instead he lives a lavish life while the farmers are starving. The Magistrate is a Samurai himself, but doesn’t honour the deals he makes with the other Samurai, instead he keeps his control over everyone around him. There is more honour with the three peasants who kidnap the Magistrate’s daughter, they go hungry to feed her, even though she rejects the food. Gosha’s film is a biting criticism of the system that the town is living in and how power corrupts.

Gosha does an impeccable job of creating likable characters that you really care about. Skaon Shiba feels like an iconic samurai. He’s loyal, lives by a code, and is a force for good wherever he goes. He sees the struggle that the farmers are in and tries to help them the best he can. The other two samurai that join him throughout the film are also great characters, and you can perfectly imagine how well the three characters would play off each other in the TV series. It’s a real shame it’s not available anywhere.

The action and fight sequences are just excellent. It is sometimes clear that the sword isn’t touching, and the deaths and blows are overdramatized, but there is still a rawness to it that feels real. The way that the camera moves around during the fight sequences is brilliant, it makes you feel like your part of it. It feels intense because you’re so invested in the characters.

Three Outlaw Samurai is an excellent samurai film. It’s really dark and gritting in tone and the action is thrilling. It still feels fresh and original, almost sixty years later, and that’s purely down to how great Gosha was as a filmmaker.

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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