“I’ll kill whoever stands in my way!” Kurando Mitsutake’s ‘Samurai Avenger’ and the Aesthetics of Revenge

At first glance, Kurando Mitsutake’s 2009 film Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf may appear to be the latest installment in an ongoing effort at recreating the movie mayhem instigated by Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Volume One. After all, there’s even a blurb from Cinequesting on the mass market DVD stating, “You got your TARANTINO in my KUROSAWA!” However, to claim that Mitsutake’s film, co-written with John Migdal, is merely aspiring toward turning the Tarantino style into something Japanese is a bit misguided. In fact, the critic who wrote the above quote, however flattering it may be, was probably influenced by the wrongful assumption that Tarantino’s cameo in Sukiyaki Western Django meant that Samurai Avenger’s predecessor was made by the renowned auteur of American postmodern ultraviolence. On the contrary, it was legendary Japanese shock director Takashi Miike, of Ichi the Killer fame, who is responsible for the visionary western comedy fantasy, starring Hideaki Ito as “The Gunman.” In light of this, I would argue that Mitsutake’s film is stylistically connected to Miike’s film, as opposed to anything by Tarantino, particularly in terms of evoking a uniquely non-Western Western, whose main character and storyline are more indebted to Japanese storytelling traditions than to those in the American western movie genre. With respect to American westerns, I should note first, if Samurai Avenger has any relationship to any previous movie in this category, it’s probably Terence Young’s 1971 film Red Sun. Starring Charles Bronson, the film features the eminently distinguished Toshiro Mifune playing the bodyguard for the Japanese ambassador, whose train has been robbed by bandits, leaving them stranded in the proverbial “wild west.” With reagrd though to my point about Mitsutake’s relation to Japanese stroies, while references to Sergio Leone’s classic “spaghetti westerns” are abundant, especially A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West, there is an equal number of references to various movies about Zatoichi, the “blind swordsman” of myth, not to mention Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s manga series Lone Wolf & Cub, which later became the source for Robert Houston’s Shogun Assassin, starring Tomisaburo Wakayama as “Lone Wolf.” As for Mitsutake’s film, in one respect it’s a basic revenge film, in which the main character, “Blind Wolf,” is forced to endure the murder of his wife and child at the hands of a sociopath, “Nathan Flesher,” and his henchman, who even force the man who would become the blind avenger to mutilate himself. Learning the ways of the sword, Blind Wolf takes his katana on the road to vengeance, pursuing his assailant at the jail from which he’s about to be released, unless he can get there in time and exact his bloody retribution. However, the road to justice is neither straight nor easy, as Blind Wolf will encounter seven assassins standing in his way. What results is a journey toward justice and enlightenment, which will cost the lives of many! Particularly noteworthy in this adventure is the appearance of Mariko Denda as “The Hypnotist,” whose sultry and hypnotic killing powers generate one of the more stunning scenes in the film.

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