Legendary genre auteur Hideo Gosha’s gleefully anarchic, spaghetti western-informed samurai adventures are finally available to North American audiences in one complete set. In SAMURAI WOLF 1 (1967, 75 mins, 2.35:1 Widescreen, Mono), Isao Natsuyagi stars as Kiba, a charismatic ronin who wanders into a small town and ends up ensnared in a local conflict that’s more than meets the eye. After dispatching a pair of highway criminals seen robbing a courier wagon, Kiba agrees to assist a beautiful blind woman who runs the local shipping company. Double- and triple-crosses ensue, illustrated with savage but economical violence courtesy of famed director Hideo Gosha’s striking black and white filmmaking. The result is a lean and mean triumph of samurai cinema, cementing Gosha’s status as a master of the genre.
In SAMURAI WOLF 2: HELL CUT (1967, 72 mins, 2.35:1 Widescreen, Mono), charismatic ronin Kiba (Isao Natsuyagi) returns, once again entangled in a complex web of intrigue, involving a crooked goldmine owner, a cynical swordsman, and an arrogant dojo master. Master filmmaker Hideo Gosha brings his trademark tight pacing and stylish action to this brisk morality play, inevitably punctuated by the explosions of violent swordplay beloved by fans of the genre.
For thoughts on Samurai Wolf 1 & 2, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic:
Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut come to Blu-Ray courtesy of Film Movement Classics sourced from new 2K restorations of the original broadcast elements in the original 2.35:1. While it would be easy to break each of these down individually, the quality is uniformly great across the board and there would be a lot of repeating thoughts. The gorgeous black-and-white photography shines in high definition with natural grain intact. The grain field can lean a bit on the heavier side, but both transfers are resolved well. The contrast is well defined, but there are still some minor lingering nicks and scratches even after the restoration process. There is a striking amount of detail present with nice texture on the period costumes and in the rural setting. Black levels are fairly deep with no distracting trace of black crush or compression artifacts. The quality of these transfers are as strong as the source material will allow, and it represents a win for Film Movement Classics.
This Blu-Ray comes with LPCM 2.0 mono tracks in the original Japanese (with optional English subtitles). Dialogue sounds mostly clear without sound effects or the score trouncing on important information. Some exchanges show very minor instances of distortion, but this is not a persistent issue. Both films employ some powerful sound effects in the form of clanging swords that are given the appropriate weight within the mix. While both have elements of action and thrills, most scenes provide more of a dialogue-driven approach that allows for character development. The deliberate implementation of the score comes through nicely in relation to the competing sounds. This is not a particularly dynamic presentation, but it presents everything accurately with pleasing fidelity and without damage or other unwanted issues.
- Samurai Wolf Audio Commentary: Chris Poggiali, co-author of These Fists Break Bricks, delivers a pretty informative commentary track in which he delves into the career of Hideo Gosha, the background of the performers, analysis of the plot and the franchise, the state of Japanese cinema at the time of release, inspirations taken from other films and more.
- Outlaw Director – Hideo Gosha: A 16-minute featurette is provided with Tomoe Gosha in which she discusses the career of her father, how he approached filmmaking, how he captured sword fighting, the ways in which he worked with his ensemble and more.
- Trailers: This disc provides the trailers for Samurai Wolf (1:31) and Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut (1:24). There is also a trailer provided for Hideo Gosha’s Violent Streets, also out soon on Blu-Ray from Film Movement Classics.
- Booklet: This release comes with a new 20-page booklet featuring a new essay by Robin Gatto, author of Hideo Gosha, cinéaste sans maître.
Samurai Wolf 1 & 2 are two films that really make an impression in this specific action sub-genre. It is easy for samurai films to become somewhat mindless as the feature loses itself within the brutal fighting, but Hideo Gosha keeps character and narrative connectivity at the forefront. There is so much personality put into each of these films as they exhibit strong creative choices that make them especially thrilling to watch, even beyond the fighting. Film Movement Classics has delivered a Blu-Ray with a wonderful A/V presentation and a few good special features. If you want to dip your toe into the work of the great filmmaker, both of these offer something special. Recommended
Samurai Wolf 1 & 2 will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray on May 16, 2023.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Film Movement Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.