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G.I Samurai

September 17, 2009

Senjoku jieitai (Japan, 1979)

Business genius, narcotics crimimal, and the reformer of Japanese entertainment industry, producer Haruki Kadokawa took rule of his father’s company Kadokawa Heralds in the mid 70’s. Haruki Kadokawa’s strategy was to produce large scale, Hollywood type films and support them with aggressive advertising campaign and simultaneous supplementary releases. For his 1978 Ken Takakura film Never Give Up Kadokawa borrow military equipment from the US army. G.I. Samurai (aka Timeslip), based on a hit novel by Ryo Hanmura, continues on the same path. Shinichi Chiba plays an army commander whose platoon that is thrown back in time to the 16th century. With no way back to their own time, the men must fight for they life and ally with warlord Nagao Kagetora (aka Kenshin Uesugi) (Isao Natsuagi).

G.I. Samurai is a slightly uneven but unique action film. Kadokawa has put enough money into the project to cover three Street Fighter trilogies. The investment shows; the climatic 25 minute battle scene featuring trucks, a battle helicopter, and hundreds of extras is possibly the most massive action piece created in the history of Japanese cinema. It’s also one of the most intense scenes in any war movie; a few dozen heavily armed men fighting an enemy of thousands. The film’s tone is rather dark at times; power corrupts one character after another, and when stripped of their responsibilities the modern soldiers turn into savages. Still, G.I. Samurai is primarily an entertainment film and should be reviewed as one. There are some weaknesses such as overlong ending, and use of music that varies between clumsy and brilliant. Supporting roles feature loads of brief appearances by current and upcoming stars; idol Hiroko Yakushimaru, action star Hiroyuki Sanada, karate villain Masashi Ishibashi, producer Haruki Kadokawa himself, and many others. The film also takes the opportunity to re-write history. Many characters appearing in the film are real 16th century warlords. The viewers will finally get to discover the real cause of death of Shingen Takeda!

G.I. Samurai has had quite history with varying edits. The original Japanese version runs approximately 139 minutes. However, for its original US theatrical release the film was cut for below 90 minutes. Almost all characterization, effective modern day flashbacks and darker psychological themes have been removed from the film. It leads to several continuity problems. For example the helicopter vs. boat scene is entirely missing the sniper (Koji Naka) and has been edited to look like Chiba is the only man fighting the villains. As a result, the some bullets come from the wrong direction. Also, some decisions made by the characters become nonsensical since the preceding scene has been removed (one example would be the ending, which features no footage of Kagetora meeting the other warlords). Strangely, the sex and rape scenes from the original film are missing as well, although one would assume grindhouse distribution to favour sexual content. But even this hurts the film; the renegade soldier’s (Tsunehiko Watase) worst crimes are never seen, and he becomes an enemy merely for stealing some equipment. Aside from this heavily cut US version a 117 minute print also exists, and it has been screened at least in Norway and Finland.

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