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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Ronin Gai (1989)

"Gone are men of valor, never, never to return..."
- Bull (Shintaro Katsu)

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: June 08, 2005

Stars: Shintaro Katsu, Yoshio Harada, Kanako Higuchi, Eisei Amamoto, Renji Ishibashi, Kaoru Sugita
Director: Kazuo Kuroki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (bloody samurai violence, some sensuality/nudity)
Run Time: 01h:56m:39s
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 037429196328
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Ronin Gai begins with a dedication to Shozo Makino, the father of Japanese cinema and director of the original version of this tale, produced in 1928. This remake aims to pay tribute to the late Makino, who pioneered the period drama; it is a genre that has found great success in Japan, a country whose history is as rich as it is bloody. Directed by Kazuo Kuroki, this new incarnation of Ronin Gai would be an intentional throwback to the days of period picture glory, dominated by masters such as Kurosawa and Mizoguchi. The former master, Akira himself, is clearly admired by Kuroki, whose style aims to capture the essence of the late legend.

The story is somewhat fragmented, relying on an ensemble cast of colorful characters. Aramaki Gennai (Yoshio Harada) is your average scoundrel. Dirty, sweaty, and without work, he is one ronin among many, foraging for scraps among the poverty stricken countryside of feudal Japan. Civil war has died down, and the period of Restoration is approaching, but upheaval is still at hand. In a local brothel, Aramaki reunites with his long lost love Oshin (Kanako Higuchi), a fetching prostitute who fetches an even higher price. It is a love/hate relationship; Oshin cannot explain her love for Aramaki, and even when other, more socially acceptable suitors come her way, such as the pensive samurai Horo (Renji Ishibashi), she cannot abandon him.

Love is in the air. The bouncer at this fine establishment, the eccentric Bull (Shintaro Katsu), is enamored by Obun (Kaoru Sugita), whose brother is yet another ronin who must bribe his way back into favor with his former master. When Obun is forced to take extreme measures to survive, Bull works up a scheme to help the beauty's poor brother and to get a little something for himself. Before he can attend to his plan, several prostitutes turn up murdered. A gang of ruthless samurai seem to be the convenient culprits, and this eclectic crew of misfits must band together to find the truth, defeat their enemies, and regain their honor.

This is a decent jidai geki film, but despite all its potential, the tale never quite takes off. Kuroki's style, which aims to capture Kurosawa's tendencies (including the use of long lenses), is problematic. His approach is a suitable copy, but lacks the spirit and voice so readily apparent in Kurosawa's masterworks. The script even goes so far as to incorporate Kurosawa films into the dialogue; Seven Samurai and Stray Dog are quite noticeable. True, expecting an epic on the level of Yojimbo is probably too much to ask, but it's difficult to avoid comparisons. Another disappointing attribute is the film's rather slow pacing. The premise promises bouts of bloody samurai action, but excluding the hyperactive final battle, the few sword fights we are privy to are rather lifeless and short lived.

Despite some sleepiness, the film's production values and performances are solid. Shintaro Katsu, star of the Zatoichi and Hanzo series, is nearly unrecognizable here, but his familiar comedic charm and charisma shine through. Yoshio Harada, who plays the bold Aramaki, does his best Mifune impression throughout. This is by no means a failure, but Kuroki's heart just doesn't seem to be in the kimono and katana. Where The Sword of Doom's stylized strains utilized Kurosawa veterans to their fullest, Kuroki's copy of Kurosawa's style remains somewhat flat. This may be a passable diversion for all you samurai fans out there, but it will make you appreciate Kurosawa all the more.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision's anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is quite pleasing, showcasing bold colors and deep blacks. Detail is decent, if a bit muted. There is also some combing during scenes of fast-motion; this is a minor quibble.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseno

Audio Transfer Review: The Japanese Dolby 2.0 track is clear and bright, complete with the cartoonish slashes and screams we've come to expect.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with an essay by film critic Mark Pollard
Extras Review: Aside from the shiny anamorphic theatrical trailer, the only extra is an insert with an essay by Mark Pollard. His comments are helpful, shedding some light on the film's cinematic context. The cover art is quite striking.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A passable throwback to the glory days of jidai geki, Ronin Gai comes off as an interesting diversion. A lack of soul and energy hampers its excitement, but fine performances and production values make this worth a look. If Kurosawa had continued painting instead of directing, this would probably play better. Home Vision's presentation remains honorable.


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