Out of all the screening copies we receive, Der Samurai is one of the best.
|"Make fun of my dress,|
prepare to die."
Imagine the distant cool of Jean-Pierre Melville starring a German Toshiro Mifune filtered through the androgyny and homoeroticism of Rainer Werner Fassbender and you have a rough idea of the stage set in Till Kleinert’s surreal fantasy action thriller, Der Samurai.
Among the strangest yet most skillful reworking of the samurai myth since Nagisa Oshima’s mutually gay themed samurai epic Taboo with overtones of the horror genre, Der Samurai concerns a cop named Jakob who is called into a village to investigate a series of wolf attacks only to come face to face with an androgynous sword wielding maniac in a woman’s white dress. As the old saying goes, heads will indeed roll, just not in the manner you’d expect. Only the Germans can turn transvestitism into something quite formidable and violent.
A loose metaphor for unleashing repressed urges with Freudian overtones, Der Samurai feels like Gregg Araki on acid. Watching the film, I kept thinking back to The Doom Generation’s Xavier with his long blond hair and omnisexuality whenever Der Samurai’s transvestite slasher appeared onscreen. Playing freely with elements of the horror genre, the myth of the hero, sexual awakening and even a bit of the werewolf subgenre, this is the kind of movie that takes familiar ideas and rearranges them in a discomfiting yet unique fashion. Unfolding much like a hallucinogenic nightmare, the film is a visually breathtaking head trip shot with rich colors and augmented by the largely nighttime setting, allowing the cross dressing adversary to amorphously blend in and out of the dark.
|"I just wanted to|
pitch a tent."
That said, Der Samurai is far from perfect, with some of the acting and setups showing off their occasionally amateurish production values. There were also times when Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus came into mind, showing by the same token just how much you can do in terms of action with so little in the bank account. While not for everyone and clearly slanted towards the gay persuasion and more open minded cinemagoers, Der Samurai is an inventive retelling of the samurai myth that actually does manage to intimidate and make one’s blood run cold. Who would have thought the bizarre sight of a fully grown man in a woman’s dress decapitating his fellow humans right and left could be so terrifying and yet so fascinating at the same time?