Samurai Spy ★★★★

Who better than Masahiro Shinoda to make a film about spies? A director who, visually, is a master of using low-key lighting is more than built to tell a story of those in which their livelihood depends upon working within the shadows. Shinoda makes night more intense than anyone else yet maintains a certain eloquence in composition. The use of shadows is phenomenal but there is another important part of the compositions here that really drives home the film’s thematic purpose.

It is in the way Shinoda frames much of the fighting, placing the samurais at such distance that the fighting is minuscule, irrelevant to the larger scope of ensuing conflict. By minimizing the importance of the samurai spies and at the same time making everyone else be even more incompetent around them, makes for a sort of farcical approach. All one has to do is just see some of the fight sequences where Sasuke Sarutobi (Kōji Takahashi), with almost no effort, kills the numerous combatants he faces. The farcical approach is evident in Shinoda’s own comments on the film in an interview for Criterion, he mentions that the film is, in part, a response to the escalation of the Cold War. Again, where spies are tools, irrelevant in the bigger picture yet an undeniable influence on ensuing decisions. While there may be a tendency to call much of the film’s exposition to be boring, useless in fact only helps the film. The fact that gaining intrigue is mostly based upon blind rumors, double-crossing, and lucky guesses only proves the futility of spies, whether it be 16th/17th century Japan or the Cold War.

The bias is pretty evident, Shinoda’s films always contain visuals that never fail to impress. Every superlative in the book still would not be enough to describe just how good his compositions are, one must see for themselves. Shinoda weaves through such a variance in his films, seemingly unafraid to take on any kind of story. A film that satirizes samurais (plus the Cold War) and chops of limbs is okay in my book.

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