When you were a child, did you have grandiose dreams of what you would become? I know I sure did. I was going to pop singer, an jet fighter pilot, or a mad scientist. If only I could have combined the three, I’d be perfect fodder for a comic book character. Instead, my voice changed, vision got bad, and I didn’t end up enjoying chemistry, so my dreams flew out the window. What were your dreams? Did you let them go? Or did you push forward no matter what others said? In TATARA SAMURAI, we see the journey of one young man doing just that in order to become a samurai.PREMATURE EVALUATIONS: TATARA SAMURAI 2017 dir. Yoshinari Nishikôri
Throughout Japan, steel is prized for it’s ability to be made into amazing swords for samurai and other soldiers. No steel is more coveted than that of Tatara-Buki steel, a pure, perfect steel created with a blacksmithing method that originates from the village of the same name. Only the Murage, or master blacksmith, of the village knows the process, and it is handed down throughout the generations.
In the opening scene, we are presented with the village of Tatara in Japan 1567 AD, under attack. No one is safe from the onslaught as dark blues and black swaths of violence rain down on the innocent. Then suddenly we see some bright reds, orange and yellows, as the Amago samurai have arrived to protect the villagers, like the sun piercing through the darkness of the night. Turning the tides of aggression, even the children are inspired to fight back, but one child loses his mother in front of his eyes by one of the few remaining marauders. That boy, Gosuke, looks on as the young lord Shinnosuke dispatches of his mother’s killer.
As kids, most boys fantasize about being soldiers. And having seen a samurai defend his own life, Gosuke aspires to become one himself rather than pursue the family tradition of being the Murage. And throughout, we see people willing to bend over backwards to get young Gosuke closer to his goals. A merchant Sobei helps get him out of the village, and arranges a meeting with Yohei. Both impressed by his village’s talents with steel, they don’t ask for anything immediately in return for helping him. This is where most people’s Spidey Sense should be flaring, but the young man pushes forward with his goals.
Joining the Oda army, Gosuke trains and works diligently in the cook line in order to prove himself. While doing so, the unit is under attack from another army completely by surprise. As his commanding officer is taken down, Gosuke runs with his fellow cook. After seeing more death and despair, Gosuke is lost and unsure of what to do at this time. Imagine STAR WARS if Luke Skywalker went off on his adventure with Kenobi, Solo and Chewbacca, but was the only one that survived the failed mission to rescue Leia. Would he have returned back to Tattoine and gone back to being a moisture farmer? And how would things have gone then if he was drug back into conflict without all of his training and experience of joining the Rebel fleet? In TATARA SAMURAI, we see Gosuke pursue his dream and soon see it turn into a nightmare as he realizes that war is a hellish experience.
While many samurai films can rely solely on action, and short shrift the characters, or slow things down dramatically to flesh out the stories, TATARA SAMURAI does its best to straddle that razor sharp line. The action is scattered throughout the film, giving plenty of moments between in which our characters and the scenery are allowed to breathe. Some of the more compelling scenes we are presented with include Okuni, Gosuke’s fiancee, and her grandmother. Her grandmother has a very strong intuition, almost to the point of prescience. Their presented dialogue is primarily about Gosuke’s future, but beyond that, you can sense a strong bond between them, and a true passion for the longevity of their village. Another standout is the elder coal maker. Constantly covered in soot, the elder puts his all into his position as the Murage isn’t able to make the steel without his coal. His wisdom is presented throughout, with few listening to him until it may be too late.
This film is beautifully shot, from start to finish, and the production design was superb. My breath was taken away during a moment of the journey where Gosuke boarded a sailing boat. We’ve all seen sailing boats, even a lot of traditional Japanese style. But the way that this scene was shot, it was a true work of art. As the sail was rolled out, and the wind slowly filled each finely stitched piece, one can’t help but be in awe of the craftsmanship used to create the massive ship. That attention is paid throughout the film as we get to see the Tatara-Buki process of steel making as well, and later how that process is used to manufacture the new equilizer, that being black powder rifles.
TATARA SAMURAI is a beautiful look into Sengoku period Japan, a glimpse of a craftsmanship many generations in the making, and a violent look at how quickly it all can be taken away if you don’t trust in yourself. TATARA SAMURAI is presented throughout the US through Eleven Arts.
Gosuke: Sho Aoyagi (MR. LONG, WILD HEROES, KONSHIN)
Shinpei: Naoki Kobayashi (Kuroha: Kisô no Josei sôsakan, NIGHT HERO NAOTA)
Okyo: Tomoko Tabata (BLOOD AND BONES, THE HIDDEN BLADE)
Okuni: Anna Ishii (GTO: GREAT TEACHER ONIZUKA, SOLOMON’S PERJURY)
Sir Shinnosuke: Akira (HIGH AND LOW, LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN
Okuni’s Grandmother: Tomoko Naraoka (PONYO)
Yohei: Masahiko Tsugawa (ULTRA MAN GINGA, GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK)
Writer/Director: Yoshinari Nishikôri (RAILWAYS, HIGH SCHOOL GHOSTBUSTERS, KONSHIN)
Director of Cinematography: Akira Sako (RETURNER, KEY OF LIFE)
Action Director/Stunts: Yoshio Iizuka (multiple POWER RANGERS series, SUICIDE SQUAD, 21 JUMP STREET)