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Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai is a fantastically cynical anti-samurai movie that has no truck with notions of codes of honor or nobless oblige, its heroes changing sides to regain their honour, whores buying and selling other whores, its villain not only breaking his word but constantly hiring new mercenaries to kill whichever previous batch of mercenaries he's just hired to save paying them. The closest to an idealist among them is Tetsuro Tamba, a vagabond ronin who literally stumbles into a kidnapping plot when looking for a place to spend the night, only to find three local peasants are holding the corrupt local magistrate's spoilt daughter in the futile hope of getting him to grant reforms. But rather than come to her rescue or strike a blow for justice and throw in his luck with the peasants, he simply stays on the sidelines, offering the odd bit of advice but more interested in getting a good night's sleep than righting wrongs. Of course it's only a matter of time before he is reluctantly drawn to their side, and slightly longer before he's joined by Isamu Nagatu's country bumpkin ronin and Mikihiro Hira's stylish cynic who is sponging off the magistrate.

If justice finally prevails it's more due to impatience and personal grudges than any sense of honor: Gosha's ferociously pitiless vision of feudal Japan makes Kurosawa's look like commercials for the status quo. Unlike the Seven Samurai or the later Magnificent Seven, here it's not the farmers who win and everybody else loses, it's the samurai who survive leaving the farmers no better off despite their best efforts because the peasants ultimately can't bring themselves to stand up for themselves even when the obstacles are removed. Not that the ronin are much better - they're only one small step above the swords for hire they fight and more akin to animals rooting around for scraps in a world with only passing use for them (one rival swordsman even describes them as stray dogs)

The tight 93 minute running time does mean there are a couple of abrupt gaps in the narrative that it probably owes to its origins as a spin-off from a long-running popular TV series Gosha developed, but they're minor problems. Gosha's direction is wonderfully cinematic and visually impressive without being over elaborate. The action scenes are well handled with the blood flowing like bottles of black ink - it's a black and white film, and one that shows how well matched CinemaScope and monochrome can be in the right hands. Terrific stuff, and Criterion's transfer is good enough to do it justice even if it's not quite outstanding. The only extras on Criterion's region A-locked Bluray are the customary detailed booklet with a good essay on the film by Bilge Ebiri and the original theatrical trailer with much behind the scenes footage trumpeting Gosha as a major arrival on the big screen. They weren't wrong.
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on 16 December 2015
Shiba, a wandering Samurai comes across three men holding a young girl hostage. At first he thinks they are bad until he hears their story, where they want the girls father, the Lord to hear their plea. After spending the night with them he opts to help them on their course for justice.

Director Hideo Gosha makes his feature film debut which was a reworking of his very own TV series. In the vein of Seven Samurai we have three heroes who for no pay opt to fight for the honor of a small farming village.

In the lead we have Testuro Tamba who starred in all types of movies throughout his career, ranging from a James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, a Spaghetti Western Five Man Army and a Shaw Brothers martial arts flick Water Margin. He was a very talented actor and here he stars as Shiba a honorable and tough Samurai. His character is a tough and skilled warrior who forms a bond with the three farmers holding the girl hostage. He values what they are doing even if it will most likely cost them their lives.

While holding the girl hostage two other samurai's end up pledging themselves to Shiba's cause. One is Sakura played by Isamu Nagato,who is another wondering master less samurai who has been arrested and thrown in jail. He is offered his release to help the Lord reclaim his daughter. During a fight with Shiba he switches sides. The third is a young and arrogant samurai Kikyo played by Mikijiro Hira. He clearly respects Shiba but he enjoys his life of luxury fighting for the Lord. However when a prostitute he loves is killed he to join Shiba and Sakura.

Hideo Gosha's direction is faultless as he shows the bonds and respect between each of the characters. However this film maybe very character driven it is not without its action. Which for a film of this period it is surprisingly violent. We have gushings of blood (yes the film is in black and white) and the climax has our three heroes in a all out battle against a band of the Lord warriors.

Tadashi Sakai's cinematography is beautiful with some fine camerawork and intense lighting which is aided by the black and white picture. He also opts to focus a lot of shots of feet and angles that cut off the actors head. It sounds strange but it works well.

Overall its one of my favourite samurai movies, it may not be as good as Seven Samurai but it is impressive none the less.

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At present this 1964 Japanese cult classic is only available on BLU RAY in the States. But therein lies a problem for UK and European buyers…

The US issue is REGION-A LOCKED - so it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK Blu Ray players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't). Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.

Until such time as someone else gives “The Three Outlaw Samurai” a REGION B and C release – check your BLU RAY player has the capacity to play REGION A – before you buy the pricey Criterion issue…
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on 23 November 2014
good film
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on 20 March 2015
Good fun.
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on 14 February 2012
Great movies like this need to have a wider audience than an exclusive one on Blueray only.What about the dvd version?
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on 2 October 2014
The video came on time well package but wrong region, so could not watch it.
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