Why, you might ask, would a review of a book about samurai films be appropriate for The Godzilla Saga? Allow me to explain. I’m crazy about kaiju eiga, particularly Godzilla films, followed by Mothra and Gamera movies as ties for second most favorites. After watching dozens of them, multiple times, I began to recognize many of the same actors appearing in the various films. Curious person that I am, I Googled several actors and actresses and looked at filmographies. I also read everything I could get my hands on about keiji eiga, and learned that in Japan it is common to find top-rated actors appearing in a variety of types of films, essentially whatever their studios wanted to put them in. So, we have actors like the venerable Takisha Shimura--Dr. Yamane in Gojira--also playing a wandering ronin in Seven Samurai, a world famous film even I had heard of and knew was considered a “classic.“ I decided I wanted to see Seven Samurai, and ordered it from Netflix. Entranced, I watched not only Shimura but the immortal Toshiro Mifune and five others use their wits and flash their swords across the screen, saving the day for defenseless villagers. And that, as they say, was that. I wanted to see more samurai. I wanted to see more of Mifune and the other excellent performers. Back to Google. Back to Netflix. A friend watched with me, and we began a regular weekly “samurai night.”
I ran across Mr. Galloway’s book on Amazon.com, and ordered it, thinking it might prove interesting. That was a massive understatement! When the book arrived I began thumbing through it. Soon I was highlighting, taking notes, and making a list of additional films to search out. Before I knew it, I had read the entire book (235 pp.) in a single afternoon!
It occurred to me that I am possibly--no, probably--not the only G-fan who is interested in other kinds of Japanese films. It’s very likely if you enjoy kaiju eiga, you will enjoy samurai films. If you enjoy westerns, it’s likely you will enjoy samurai films. If you enjoy swashbuckling adventure, usually directed and portrayed with talent and gusto, then you’ll probably love samurai films. There’s something for everyone. Guys love the dashing swordplay, accompanied by much shedding of blood. And ladies, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Toshiro Mifune in a loincloth!
Now some of you may be thinking, “subtitles—yuck.” Well, yes, these movies are in Japanese with English subtitles, but once you get used to it, you won’t even notice them. Same with the “foreign-sounding” (to us gojin) Japanese names of people and places. Not to worry. This is where the book comes in very handy, allowing you to read in advance a bit, so you are familiar with the names and places and can more easily follow the plot. And, no, Mr. Galloway doesn’t give away all the surprise endings. Besides, as a kaiju-fan you’re already familiar with many of the names and places and the general “look” of Japanese films. If you’re a dedicated fan, you’ve probably even watched many Godzilla films in Japanese to avoid the terrible editing and dubbing jobs done to the films before release in America, so the subtitles will be nothing new to you.
Many of the stories portrayed in samurai films and the historical periods on which they are based are an important part of Japanese history and folklore and a source of national pride. Mr. Galloway begins with an excellent introduction to the world of the samurai. He explains his purpose in writing the book as, “to turn people on to great films without getting too bogged down with tedious genre distinctions.” He discusses the studios, the films, the actors, and gives plot descriptions for 52 of what he considers the best of the samurai films. He even gives various suggestions on ways to find the films, some of which are harder to locate than others. He writes with enthusiasm and humor and--be still my heart--provides a glossary and cross-index. The movies are fun and so is the book. As said in the last lines of the foreword: “So, tighten your topknot, grab your sword, and let the mayhem begin!”
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