Faster Nakadai! Kill! Kill!
What The Naked Gun was to the detective film, Kihachi Okamoto’s Kill is to the samurai flick. The only problem with this, of course, is that, if you don’t know your Zatoichi from your Yojimbo, you’re not likely to get it.
Based on the same novel as Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (though the plots of the two films are miles apart), Kill is Okamoto’s attempt to outkill and outskewer the classic. It all starts when a downtrodden and stinking yakuza—samurai great Tatsuya Nakadai—stumbles into a wind-blown ghost town full of emaciated, alien-like chickens. It soon turns out that this card-playing drifter is a disillusioned former samurai, a man who left Bushido-bound servitude for hippie-dippy pacifism. When he arrives in town, he meets a clownish peasant boy (Etsushi Takahashi) out to become a samurai and prove himself in battle. Neither has eaten for days—Okamato lets us hear every disconcerting intestinal gurgle. Just as they’re about to join forces to strangle the aforementioned chickens, the peasant and former samurai stumble into the complex clan warfare that has divided the town. As the titles suggests, this involves a heady dose of death.
The plot eventually grows too difficult to follow without notes, but, along the way, just about every standard convention of the samurai story is explored and exploded. Not only does Nakadai’s scruffy drifter eloquently question the very basis of the samurai code and its cult of violence, but the wannabe warrior is such a buffoon that each and every attempt at achieving his desired state comes across as farcical. The best scene occurs just before he and his fellow trainees are about to do battle with a band of rebels. After being showered with sake and women, our clownish hero wakes to find a made-up beauty in his arms. Tapping into his inner Hamlet, the man calls her a powdered devil. Then, noticing that her skin has indeed “felt soil,” he begins trying to rub her face off with a towel and then throwing her four feet into the air in exaltation.
The whole thing is beautifully shot and edited, but even the insane amount of death doesn’t keep Kill from dragging. As the plot turns and the political situation at its core becomes increasingly complex, it’s easy to lose the film completely. The samurai fan, however, will find much to laugh and marvel at here. The rest should give themselves a crash course before sitting through today’s screening.
Kill screens at Cinematheque Ontario tonight at 6:30 p.m.“