Well, I got tired of waiting for my library system to send this to me, so I bought it during the last flash sale at Criterion.
Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) 64/100 - I'm picturing the board members of Shochiku Studios sitting around a big table sometime back in 1963 and discussing the fact that Toho and Akira Kurosawa were raking in boatloads of money with their tandem hits Yojimbo and Sanjuro and how could they get in on the gravy train too. The answer would become Three Outlaw Samurai. I can hear someone throwing the idea of taking elements of the two films mentioned and adding a pinch of story from Toho's other blockbuster Seven Samurai and you're bound to have a sure fire hit. But when all is said and done, it is only a moderately interesting chanbara film, entertaining, but lacking the fun or punch of any of those other three films. So let's go through the check list...first, you have peasant farmers who need to be defended. Seven Samurai...check. Then you have an evil, corrupt magistrate who is squeezing the poor peasants dry...Sanjuro... check. A ronin with masterful swordsmanship who comes to the aid of the peasants...Yojimbo...check. But if you make the film with just those elements, it will definitely appear to be a case of cashing in while you can. So what to do...add two more samurai and you're ready to roll film. Unfortunately, the three samurai are pretty plain in personality and none of them really stands out. Tetsur˘ Tanba, for me, has always been Toshir˘ Mifune...lite. He tries to create the aura of invincibility, but never really pulls it off as well as Mifune could. Mikijir˘ Hira does his best to play the aloof, but cold and skilled samurai, but never reaches the depths that Tatsuya Nakadai would attain two years later in Okamoto's Sword of Doom. Finally, Isamu Nagato plays the humble samurai who closely resembles Shichiroji from Seven Samurai, not only in looks, but also in demeanor.