This review is of the original Japanese version of the film.
By 1963, Toshiro Mifune had already given exemplary performances in such great films as Kurosawa's RASHOMON, SEVEN SAMURAI and YOJIMBO as well as Inagaki's SAMURAI trilogy. So it would be easy to overlook the fact that, he, like any other actor at Toho, appeared in more than a handful of less-than-classic films. He may be slumming a bit in a film such as SAMURAI PIRATE, but even a slumming Mifune is worth watching. It's not as if SAMURAI PIRATE is a film that insults his talent - Mifune is not doing MEET THE FOCKERS here. It's a handsomely mounted adventure full of humorous touches and stock characters played by a group of actors who made a living out of bringing stock characters to life. It's just that when you see how amazing he is in Kurosawa films, you wonder why he had to do a silly fantasy like this. Then you remember, oh, yeah, actors have to make a living.
The story is simplistic nonsense about a pirate who is captured and thrown into the sea by another pirate, and is rescued by a wizard. From there, Pirate Mifune gets involved in political intrigue, several fights and a glorious half-hour long mass battle, with swords and flaming arrows, between local rebels and castle guards. The effects are mostly low key and well done, with the exception of some obvious process shots. With everything that is going on, Mifune still owns the room whenever he walks on screen. It's yet another variation on his "Sanjuro" character from YOJIMBO and SANJURO, but if you have a problem with that, you're probably not a Mifune fan anyway
He is supported by a wonderful and diverse cast, including Tadao
Nakamaru as an evil chancellor who has poisoned the King (a sadly
underused Takashi Shimura), Ichirô
Arishima (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA) as a wizard who is constantly distracted by women, and the
amazing Eisei Amamoto (KING KONG ESCAPES)
who has great fun playing in drag as
a witch whose gaze can turn people to stone. There is also
a rare alignment of three memorable and beautiful actresses in the same
film: Mie Hama, Kumi Mizuno and Akiko Wakabayashi. Hama has the
important part as a princess whom pirate Mifune falls in love with and
must save from the evil forces. Mizuno has fun with her part as a
sassy rebel leader who teams up with Mifune. Sadly, Wakabayashi
has a small and relatively thankless part as the princess's lady in
attendance. One more actress should be mentioned - Mitsuko Kusabue
as a femme fatale who doesn't love the chancellor but does love his
evil heart. Dames! Four wonderful actresses with great
and personality, and as far as I know, not one of them ever worked for
Kurosawa at the same studio. How could he overlook them?
The director rarely featured strong female characters
in his films, but I can imagine how much better the great
HIDDEN FORTRESS would have been with Hama, Wakabayashi or Mizuno in the
role of the princess in that film instead of the irritating and
loud Misa Uehara.
Toho fantasy, sci-fi and monster films are rarely classic, but they're easy to love. Like Warner Brothers potboilers of the 30s and 40s and Hammer horror films, they invite you again and again into a unique world populated with a talented stock company who do their best to entertain you. SAMURAI PIRATE may have been released into the kiddie double feature in America as the dumbed down and dubbed THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD, but the original Japanese version is a prime example of the kind of fun film Toho could create again and again. ½ - JB