“Samurai Reincarnation” – Dustin Wilmes

Kinji Fukasaku’s Samurai Reincarnation is like a two-hour crash course in Japanese history — if it were taught by the guys who created “Power Rangers” and packaged into a remake of Bill and Ted. Instead of sunny San Dimas in the 1980s, you get the countryside of 17th century Japan. Instead of two bungling high school students traveling back in time to find historical whosits to help them pass a history report, you get a disgruntled Christian ghost bringing dead guys back to life in a quest to overthrow the Shogunate. Instead of Keanu Reeves, you get Sonny Chiba. It’s uncanny.

Samurai Reincarnation loosely follows Futaro Yamada’s historical fiction novel “Makai Tensho.” The main antagonist in both the novel and the film is the real-life leader of the Shimabara Rebellion, Shiro Amakusa. The rebels believed Amakusa was prophesized to usher in the Christianization of Japan. The uprising failed, and Amakusa was killed in battle. His head was displayed on a stick in Nagasaki for several years afterward to deter others from trying these shenanigans again.

Things go a little bit differently in the film. The same uprising takes place, but instead of Amakusa winding up at the end of a pointed stick, he’s resurrected by some evil spirits after renouncing God for not doing anything to help his Christian brethren. Oh yeah, he also receives the power to resurrect others. That’s where the fun comes in. Amakusa roams the land, resurrecting dead guys along the way. Eventually, he creates his own band of supernatural samurai with the intention of seeking revenge against the Shogunate. And they would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling Chiba.

Chiba plays famous samurai Jubei Yagyu, who takes offense to Amakusa’s evil ways and plans to do something about it. He pays a visit to legendary sword maker Sengo Muramasa, who makes him a sword so nasty that it’s able to cut through demonic spirits. Making this sword was so intense that after Muramasa hands it over, he delivers the line, “If you encounter God, God will be cut” and falls over dead. Pretty heavy-duty stuff. The film only gets more ridiculous and confusing from there.

Throw in some stereotypical fishiness from the government, some black magic, floating severed heads, rioting peasants, and epic sword battles, and you’ve got quite the movie, my friends. An appearance by Tomisaburo Wakayama (the Lone Wolf and Cub films) as swordsman Yagy? Munenori doesn’t hurt, either. They even managed to shoehorn in an awkward love story.

Even though Samurai Reincarnation is enjoyable without it, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little background info about the film’s characters. Some of Japan’s most historical figures are featured in this film, including samurai Miyamoto Musashi, noblewoman Hosokawa Garasha, daimyo Matsudaira Nobutsuna, and enough real-life supporting characters to fill a textbook. The soundtrack is pretty good, the scenery is pretty good, the fight scenes are pretty good, and the film is pretty good. Just like Bill & Ted. Now all we need is Sonny Chiba’s Bogus Journey, and everything will be in harmony.

Rating: ★★½☆

-Dustin Wilmes

Dustin Wilmes is the founder and editor of Save the Crumbs magazine in Mankato, MN. He also likes candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach.

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