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  Legend of the Eight Samurai Call Up The Crystals
Year: 1983
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Stars: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Hiroyuki Sanada, Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Yuki Meguro, Mari Natsuki, Nana Okada, Masaki Kyômoto, Kenji Ohba, Nagare Hagiwara, Takuya Fukuhara, Minori Terada
Genre: Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Queen Tamazusa (Mari Natsuki) and her son Motofuji (Yuki Meguro) have just claimed victory over the Satomi clan and are presented by their warriors with the heads of their defeated foes, which they are exceedingly glad to see. But wait - there is someone missing! Where is the head of the clan's princess Shizu (Hiroko Yakushimaru)? Their underlings reassure the Queen and the Prince that she will be found soon enough, especially as they now control the land and there's nowhere for her to hide, but what they do not count on is the princess being more resourceful than they expect - and being assisted by some very loyal subjects...

Not to be confused with those Seven Samurai, as in a Spinal Tap kind of way this film goes one louder, this was one of many historical fantasies to emerge from Japan over the years, drawn from their rich folklore and here putting an eighties twist on traditional stories. Not that it was updated in setting, as there was still much to be done with the period trappings, but there were aspects that highlighted this could only have come from this decade, whether it was the special effects or the hairdos, or the intrusive power ballad that interrupts one love scene, which you may appreciate as it adds to the cheese, or feel that it's jolted you out of what up till that point had been quite engrossing.

You only have yourself to blame for being taken unawares, though, as the opening titles also play over a similar rock non-classic by John O'Banion, and besides, it all adds to the earnestness that appeals to many fans of this type of fantasy. As to the plot, those eight samurai whose legend we are viewing (this was called Satomi hakken-den in Japan) don't show up all at once, as they have to be tracked down first, and the princess has her own problems to worry about as her companions are struck down by the Queen's warriors. Her bodyguard dies saving her, while her lady in waiting is captured because they think she is actually the princess. This poor mite ends up dead halfway through a face transplant thanks to Motofuji's vanity.

Yes, our villains are really supernatural beings, as the princess discovers when she is told all about the curse they placed on her clan. The person doing the telling is that stalwart of Japanese cinema, Sonny Chiba, here playing the first of the eight samurai Dosetsu, a man with all the answers as well as a crystal taken from the century-long dead body of a previous princess. Each of the samurai will be holding one of these crystals as it's a giveaway as to who is a goodie or not, and they are all dedicated to saving the princess and keeping the country free of evildoers. Easier said than done, particularly with chaps like Shinbei (Hiroyuki Sanada) roaming about, a failed warrior who sees his opportunity at glory by capturing the princess.

As he's introduced as not such a bad fellow, merely impetuous and foolhardy (and given to swinging through the forest like Tarzan), we can tell that he and the princess will find common ground, and as he's the only man about who is her age, we can also predict that there will be some romance on the cards once they work out their differences. Shinbei cannot go through life without a big secret to be revealed at the halfway mark which makes him far more significant than the other characters suspected, he's that kind of guy, but all the way through this could best be described as eventful, with just about every character with a speaking role given their own backstory or portentous obstacle to overome. If this is perhaps a little too busy for its own good, even with the over two hours of running time for the plot to luxuriate in, director Kinji Fukasaku keeps a steady hand on a movie which throws in a giant killer centipede spirit, a Countess Bathory-inspired quirk to the villainess, and a surprisingly poignant final half hour in among all that mayhem. Music by Joey Carbone and Richie Zito.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Kinji Fukasaku  (1930 - 2003)

Japanese director whose long career took in science fiction such as The Green Slime, Message From Space and Virus and gangster movies such as Yakuza Graveyard, Street Mobster and Graveyard of Honour. He also co-directed Tora! Tora! Tora! In 2000 scored a big international hit with the savage satire Battle Royale. Died whilst making a sequel, which was completed by his son Kenta.

 
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