Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf
Released by: Synapse Films
Released on: May 26th, 2015.
Director: Kurando Mitsutake
Cast: Kurando Mitsutake, Jeffrey James Lippold, Domiziano Arcangeli
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Written, directed by and starring Kurando Mitsutake, the man behind the more recent Gun Woman, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is a pretty amusing genre mashup that pays homage to samurai films and spaghetti westerns alike.
The movie follows a visually impaired Ronin nicknamed Blind Wolf (Mitsutake) who, when we meet him, is trying to make his way from point A to point B through some sort of barren desert wasteland. On the way he is forced to unleash the full fury of his skills as a swordsman and make short work of those who would stop him or do him harm.
From here, we learn some of The Blind Wolf’s story. Like a certain Ito Ogami, he was a proud father and husband but all of that changed when a man named Nathan Flesher (Domiziano Arcangeli) brutally raped and killed his wife and then killed his daughter. The fray cost our hero his eyesight and he’s since been on a quest for revenge. He has only one friend in this world, an eccentric named Drifter (Jeffrey James Lippold), but he’s not a bad man to have at your side in a fight. We see this when they wind up engaged in mortal combat against the denizens… both the living and the dead. But if our hero can make his way through the various challenges he will encounter, will he have what it takes to avenge his fallen beloved and their child?
Very clearly a love letter of sorts to the Zatoichi movies and the Lone Wolf And Cub pictures, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf manages to work in all sorts of ‘other stuff’ too. There’s a scene where a character drags some coffins thought the muddy streets of a western town a al Corbucci’s Django and there are zombies and naked ladies aplenty scattered throughout this strange world. In spite of all of this, the movie basically plays things completely straight. It goes over the top more often than not, but so did some of the films that inspired it, and Mitsutake actually makes for a fairly convincing blind samurai. He’s dubbed here, a tactic used alongside fake print damage and color fading to give the movie an unnecessary faux-grindhouse appearance, but he definitely has the right sort of look and screen presence to pull this off. The supporting cast members all add their own specific quirks and flavor to the movie but as so much of it revolves around Mitsutake in the lead it is definitely to the movie’s credit that he’s able to pull it off as well as he does here.
The movie goes at a good pace and while the rape/murder scene is noticeably harsher in both tone and execution compared to the more playful and over the top vibe that the rest of the movie goes for, it makes for a fun watch. Gore is handed out in liberal doses, mostly without the aid of CGI – in fact there are times where, as you can see from the screen cap below, the bloodshed literally covers the camera lens. A fun Morricone inspired soundtrack and some ultra-slick camera work add a bit of welcome polish to the finished product. Low budget and periodically overdone as it may be, this one is a lot of fun.
Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. Aside from the scenes that are intentionally degraded to give the movie that faux-grindhouse look that’s all too popular these last few years, the movie looks excellent in high definition. Detail is very good and colors are nicely reproduced (when not intentionally faded). There are no problems with any compression issues nor are there any authoring problems. Given the intended look and feel of the movie in question, this is a very fine transfer indeed.
The sole audio option for the disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 but it gets the job done quite nicely. There are some pretty cool directional effects used in the various fight scenes that come at you from well-placed locations to help add to the fun. Likewise, the film’s soundtrack sounds great here too, it’s not very nice clarity to it. The dialogue is clean and well balanced and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion.
Extras for this release begin with an audio commentary featuring Mitsutake, producer Chiaki Yanagimoto, and editor John Migdal that does a fine job of filling in the backstory as to how this movie came to be in the first place. Mitsutake has a bit more to say here than the others but it’s his baby, so that’s to be expected. It’s a lively chat that covers the costumes, effects, locations, influences and technique as well as the standard who did what on the shoot type of info.
The disc also includes two featurettes, the first of which is a making of piece that runs almost ninety minutes in length. The audio is a bit less than perfect here unfortunately but a lot of the footage showing how it all went down during production is pretty great to see. In addition to that the piece is chock full of interviews with all of the pertinent cast and crew members, clips from the feature and clips from some of the director’s other projects as well. It’s nicely put together and quite interesting. The second featurette spends twelve minutes focusing almost entirely on the sword play featured in the film, showcasing the training that the cast had to go through and the importance of carefully coordinating sword play when working on a movie like this.
On top of that we get two still galleries, a ten minute section comparing original storyboards to finished footage, a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf clearly wears its low budget on its sleeve and it probably didn’t need to be made in the faux-grindhouse style that it so willingly embraces but despite its flaws, it’s a fun watch. Fans of spaghetti westerns and samurai movies will appreciate this more than your average Joe Six-Pack but Mitsutake’s movie is loony enough to entertain. Synapse’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great and it’s jammed with extras. If this sounds like a movie you’d dig, this is definitely the way to see it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!