Punk Samurai (2018) Review
”It was a somewhat gloomy day”. Thus begins Punk Samurai, director Gakuryû, formerly Sogo, Ishii (Crazy Thunder Road, Electric Dragon 80.000 V) and writer Kankurô Kudô’s (Brass Knuckle Boys, Princess in Prison) adaptation of Kou Machida’s supposedly unfilmable novel.
Junoshin Kake (Go Ayano, Lupin the 3rd, Ajin: Demi-Human) wanders into the domain of the Kurokaze clan and promptly kills a beggar who approaches him. He tells Shume Nagaoka (Koen Kondo, Zebraman, 13 Assassins) a low-level official in the clan, that the man was a member of a dangerous religious cult that only he can save them from. That’s enough to create the opening he needs to find a permanent position in Lord Kuroae’s (Masahiro Higashide, Creepy, Death Note: Light Up the New World) employ.
Kake plans to exploit the rivalry between two of the clan’s top retainers Shuzen Oura (Jun Kunimura, The Wailing, Suicide Forest Village) and Tatewaki Naito (Etsushi Toyokawa, Midway, Laplace’s Witch) to rise through the ranks. The only problem is, the cult, The Bellyshaker Party no longer exists and Naito knows it.
The first part of Punk Samurai is a fairly straightforward story of scheming and backstabbing among the members of the court of an ineffective ruler as they vie for power. While the plot is typical enough for both serious and comedic period dramas it’s anarchic, not to mention anachronistic, style that turns it into a comedy even before the plot itself becomes absurd. There’s a fight scene framed like a professional wrestling match, complete with moves like “Lethal Balls on Balls”, plenty of stoner jokes and shit-throwing monkeys all contrasted by the film’s narration which is played straight and serves to explain the film’s plot which keeps getting lost in all the of the antics.
As Punk Samurai progresses, and with a hundred-and-thirty-minute length there’s plenty of time for progression, the plot becomes more and more ridiculous as Naito orders Kake to resurrect the Bellyshakers so they can exploit Lord Kuroae’s fear of them. They find Hanro Chayama (Tadanobu Asano, Mortal Kombat, Thor) the cult’s former second-in-command and convince him to reanimate the sect. Needless to say, this spins totally out of control and the cult actually does become a threat.
At one point in the “Making of” documentary that comes with Third Window Films’ Blu-ray, the film’s star Go Ayano says that throughout the making of Punk Samurai, “everyone was asking “What the hell is this?”. And that pretty much sums up my reaction to the finished film. It wants to toss any sense of reality or logic in the dumpster and keep tossing anything that comes to mind at the screen to get laughs. It ended up being way too silly and scattershot for my tastes.
Between the Bellyshakers’ belief that we exist in a false reality that exists in the stomach of a giant tapeworm and we need to be shat out into the real reality, the presence of an evolved monkey Nobuzu Deusu (Masatoshi Nagase, Mountain Woman, Words With Gods) and a monkey army the film goes completely off the rails by the time the end credits, accompanied by The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” roll.
When you add in the more serious themes about society, religion, mindlessly jumping on trends, etc. that are mixed into the script the result is the kind of oddity that had its moments but was extremely hard for me to stay engrossed in. There is an audience for this kind of madness, Ishii’s career as well as that of Takashi Miike are proof of that. That audience will enjoy Punk Samurai, I found it interesting and sporadically amusing but not something I’d watch again.
Third Window Films will release Punk Samurai on Blu-ray, its first release on physical media outside of Japan as well as on Digital Platforms in the UK on March 13th. If you’re not sure what to watch next, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions,
• Making Of (66 mins)
• Go Ayano interview (6 mins)
• Premiere Stage Greetings (16 mins)
• Slipcase with artwork by Gokaiju
• Reversible Sleeve with original Japanese artwork
• Slipcase edition limited to 1000 copies
• Region B