G.I. Samurai (1979)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (1.5/5)
August 23rd, 2005 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Kosei Saito's 1979 film G.I. Samurai, a movie with an interesting concept that rarely does anything of interest with it. There are just so many problems with the production that it's hard to pinpoint where it started to go wrong. The story is one such example, as it deters in every such direction to try and incorporate several side stories. For all this deterring, though, the character development is still weak and the acting is merely serviceable, while the cast themselves are almost impossible to distinguish between. The movie's music doesn't help matters either, as it rarely ever flows with the events unfolding onscreen.

The movie's story starts out with a squadron of soldiers that are caught in a time slip which rockets them back to the mid 1500s. A number of vehicles are also caught in the phenomena, including a tank, a helicopter, a ship, a jeep, a truck and an APC. It's not long, though, before the group is met with fire from a confused group of feudal warriors, as Kuroda Nagaharu's clan rains arrows down on their position. One of the soldiers, Yano, counters by shooting at the archers with a machine gun, causing the feudal warriors to panic and flee. The action causes a rival clan, which was nearby, to approach the self-defense force soldiers, as Iba Yoshiaki, the commander, quickly befriends Nagao Kagetora, the warrior in charge of the feudal flank of warriors. This action angers Nagaharu's clan, which attacks the SDF soldiers as soon as Kagetora and his men leave the area. The assault claims a couple of the SDF troops, as some of the vehicles follow Nagaharu's clan back to their base. The modern weaponry decimates most of the fort, as Kagetora's warriors rush in to assist and finish the job.

All is not well amongst the SDF soldiers, though, as that night one of them starts to run around the camp brandishing a torch until Yano kills him, citing his reason is that there were explosives nearby. Meanwhile, Yoshiaki decides that their greatest hope for getting back to their time period is to throw history out of order by defeating the nearby warring clans and to rule the area. In the mean time, a SDF solider, Mimura, meets one of the local girls and the pair soon have sex, as the girl then follows the solider around. Unfortunately, that night, Yano steals a good deal of ammunition, kills the boat's captain, and, with a group of other renegade soldiers, goes around murdering and rapping the locals using the boat. The instance forces Yoshiaki to attack the AWOL troops, killing them, while he sinks the ship as a sign of respect to them. The SDF soldiers then move out, joining Kagetora's warriors as they go around defeating the other clans. Eventually, the two forces split up to conquer the clans more quickly; however, this causes the SDF troops to get surround by Takeda Shingen's clan, as they lose all but six of the soldiers, along with all the vehicles. With their advanced weaponry gone, Kagetora's superiors order him to kill Yoshiaki and his troops as their use has ended, while the local girl kills her lover, Mimura, as he requested.

The story as a whole is simple, while not much of notable importance occurs for most of G.I. Samurai's, excruciatingly long, two hour run time. In terms of the concept for the movie, it works here, at least for the first fifteen minutes. If nothing else, the actual time slip sequence is well done, while the first battle with the advanced weaponry vs. the feudal soldiers is interesting. Past that, though, the allure of the concept begins to wear thin, but the real fault of G.I. Samurai is the lack of focus. Overall, the movie has a lot of side plots, as a couple of the characters wander off to have their own adventures. The result is little side stories that don't mean anything to the plot as a whole. The romance aspect of the film is one example of this, as a local girl, her name is never mentioned, follows around one of the soldiers after he has sex with her. What makes this particularly odd, though, is that the girl never says a single word of dialogue during the entire movie, and their romance is actually given a fairly large amount of screen time as well. Another example of this is when two of the soldiers go off in a vein attempt to see if only a certain area was affected by the time slip. The ending result is that one is killed by warriors while the other runs off a cliff by accident, which is unintentionally humorous. All in all, the movie as a whole feels like it belongs more as a syndicated TV show then a feature length movie. Aspects like the AWOL troops seem like it could have been its own episode, as its residual impact on the story is nil, minus some dead troops and the loss of the boat. The film feels like someone took the plots from a show's entire first season, and hacked it together into a movie. The result is so many intertwined stories and characters that it's hard not to be frustratingly confused and left with a feeling of bombardment as the film unfolds onscreen

Something that shouldn't go unmentioned, though, is the film's climax: the SDF vs. Takeda Shingen's clan. The sequence as a whole, from beginning to end, lasts almost exactly 25 minutes. That's right, 25 minutes, uninterrupted. The battle starts out with the feudal warriors acting pretty incompetent, as there are helplessly slaughtered, until it switches about eight minutes into the confrontation with Takeda Shingen's clan starting to slowly deplore effective attacks. There is no signifying reason for the switch, like the arrival of more warriors or the lose of a vehicle, the tides of the battle just seem to suddenly swing. The movie itself tries to sympathize with both sides too, showing struggling dead feudal warriors while flashbacks of the SDF soldiers' daily lives are played too. The ending result is that the audience doesn't care for either of them as they hack each other to pieces. The battle itself has a few redeeming moments, such as one of the warriors, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, leaping out of the helicopter to be caught by his comrades' banners. Overall, though, it's simply too long, and edited together in a fashion where it's hard to get a sense of exactly what's going on through the entire thing. It meets a rather silly conclusion too, as suddenly Yoshiaki, on foot, just strolls over to Lord Takeda Shingen and then fights, and kills, the lord. It might not sound bad, but considering that the SDF troops and vehicles were fighting off the warriors for more than 20 minutes, and Yoshiaki, by himself and on foot, was able to accomplish what they weren't just cheapens the whole thing.

In regards to the character development, it's fairly aggravating. The focal character here is Yoshiaki, but it's hard to like him. His view is pretty twisted: why return to an era where you can't use the advanced military weapons one has? A message of peace if there ever was one... His early conclusion, that they can get back to the Showa era by creating a large enough time disturbance through ruling the current era, is just nonsensical as well. To be honest: it's exactly what the audience wants to hear, as you would be hard pressed to find someone who isn't watching this movie for the battles. However, that still doesn't excuse the lazy writing, as there are numerous other ways, such as a solider being kidnapped by one of the clans, to create a more convincing means for why they are fighting. Beyond Yoshiaki's quench for war, not much else is learned of the character. His compassion for his troops, who are dying around him, is pretty lacking, save the AWOL ones which he sends the boat down with them. The other notable character is Yano, the rogue of the group and one of the few characters one can recall by name. He is essentially the character in the film that the audience is intended to hate, and he works on that level as he goes around and kills his contemporaries. His only mentioned motivation seems to be that Yoshiaki infiltrated a coup he was apart of before the movie started, prompting punishment to be given to him. It would have been nice if the character was a bit subtler, but his intentions are fairly clear from the start. As for the remainder of the troops, the director shows flashback scenes to try and make the audience remember them, for example one's a runner, and another has a girlfriend waiting at the station for him. For the others, he has small events surrounding them, like one that befriends a local grandmother, while another befriends a fatherless family. The fault here is that Saito simply tries to develop too many characters at one time, to the point where it's nearly impossible to keep track of them all. The fact that they are all wearing the same uniform only complicates the matter too, while Agata, with his red scarf, is the only one beyond Yoshiaki to really stand out. None of the character development feels organic either, as the director has to cut away to side stories for just about everything, instead of trying to weave it into the main plot of the film.

To make matters worse, the acting here does little to make the cast stand out or become more enjoyable. Sonny Chiba plays the lead, Yoshiaki. However, the actor's most notable traits and usual film presence are absent here. He is the film's hero, but only engages the enemy in melee combat one time toward the end of the climax. When he does so, Chiba shines, but it's a very brief moment during the film's entire run time. Otherwise, his performance here is only serviceable. Chiba doesn't make the character likeable, but his performance doesn't hinder the viewing experience either. On the flip side, Isao Natsuyagi plays Kagetora, and his performance here leaves something to be desired. Natsuyagi introduces the character to the audience as he acts like an obnoxious child in the face of all the military hardware, while belting out an equally annoying laugh. His performance fares better near the end though, as he shows remorse for being ordered to kill Yoshiaki and his troops, and portrays the more serious nature of the character far more effectively. As for the rest of the cast, they play their parts competently enough. Nothing worth scorning here, but then no performances from the supporting cast to sing praise about either.

In regards to the music, Kentaro Haneda churns out a fairly forgettable score here. Some of the tracks aren't bad, but they don't fit with their particular scenes in the film at all, such as the cheerful melody that plays as the AWOL soldiers are raping some of the local girls. In general, there isn't a lot of music in the movie, though. In fact, a rather annoying effect is used quite a bit here, where everything goes silent save one aspect, for example the sound of a waterfall. It's the type of effect one would expect for a dramatic closure to a movie, but it's a common occurrence here and becomes annoying fast as it doesn't appear to represent anything in particular.

Overall, G.I. Samurai is a pretty poor film. There are a couple brief moments where the interesting concept of having modern day soldiers fight against their feudal counterparts pays off, but they are so sparsely littered across this two-hour film that they generally aren't worth it. The movie, though, was a moderate success at the box office in its day, enough so, apparently, that Kadokawa green lighted a remake of the picture, directed by Masaaki Tezuka, for 2005 titled Samurai Commando: Mission 1549.