A martyred Christian samurai is resurrected as an evil spirit & only Sonny Chiba armed with a sword made by the most evil swordmaker in Japan can stop him the demon's plan. Samurai Reincarnation is a minor camp classic from 1981.
By the late 1970s it was clear that serious samurai movies were commercially dead, & the classic age of Japanese cinema really had ended in the 1960s. But in the early '80s, more or less starting with Makai Tensho, a campier goofier type of samurai film arose, partly inspired by the commercially more successful cinema of Hong Kong.
Japanese sword & sorcery films continue to be made to this day (i.e., Gojoe, Aragami, or Onmyoji) & most of them continue to be campy rather than severe, so that director Kinju Fukasaku's influence for better or worse continues to be felt.
Kurosawaesque realism flies out the window & cartoon antics abound as a band of demons out to destroy the Tokugawa government pretty much succeed. It's totally juvenile, historically absurd, & sometimes boring. But the good moments are great, especially scenes with Tomisaburo "Babycart" Wakayama as the demonic father of Yagyu Jubei (Shinichi Chiba, in his most famous recurring role), & Ken Ogata (who had the title role in Paul Schrader's Mishima) as the resurrected Musashi Miyamoto.
I know some viewers don't like subtitles, but I would strongly encourage getting the subtitled DVD for this one, as the dubbed version is just so badly done & robs the film of a lot.
The subtitled DVD's interview with aging Chiba was sweet & sad, as he thinks this is one of the three best samurai films ever made, & he still thinks he might someday have a Hollywood acting career. What a naive sweety-pie.
The 1996 version Maikai tenso is available as a two-film set Reborn from Hell: Samurai Armageddon & Reborn from Hell: Jubei's Revenge. These are in reality one overlong film which is more of a Jubei vs the Zombies story, cheaply filmed, badly acted, terrible FX, with more the feeling of a cheesy horror film than a samurai fantasy.
The double-film is way too long, yet didn't find time enough to tell the story coherently. Hiroyuki Watanabe impersonates Sonny Chiba as Jubei very badly, & this could only be enjoyed by Z-movie fans who like 'em awful. For everyone else this one's fast-forward all the way.
There is also an inferior anime version of the story Makai tenso: Jigoku-hen (1997) available on DVD as Ninja Resurrection. It's better than the 1996 live-action version, but that's not saying a great deal.
But one other version is worth taking seriously. The 2003 remake of Makai Tensho has a two-disc DVD set with lots of extras, available as Samurai Resurrection. The extras include a history lesson about the Shimabura revolt, storyboards, deleted scenes, much else.
It is not as strongly cast as the original, but modern CGI has permitted some very striking supernatural imagery & in some scenes it is visually more striking than the original. The Christian uprising has a big-budget look to it.
Yosuke Kubozuka plays the young leader of the Shimabura Rebellion where thousands of Japanese Christians were slaughtered. As in the earlier film, he dies imbittered, & embraces the powers of Hell to be resurrected as a demon of extraordinary powers, capable of resurrecting the best warriors as his servants. Kobuzuka unfortunately comes off as a teen-idol type of star & never takes on the demonic personality as more than a cool costume, & the lavender lipstick sort of reduces him to a gay teen idol at that.
Katsuo Nakamura plays Lord Tajima the father of Yagyu Jubei. In the earlier film Tatsuya Wakayama just about stole the show with his intense performance as the resurrected Tajima who seeks the match he could never have had in life, with his own son the super-skillful Jubei. It's hard to have to perform in the shadow of someone like Wakayama, but Katsuo Nakamura recreates the original performance gorgeously, & builds on it to make it his own. He is the younger brother of the late great Kinnosuke Nakamura & has the same kabuki classicism in him.
Koichi Sato as Jubei also manages to make the character his own, & if inevitably comparisons with Sonny Chiba must be made, it must be said that Sato is a more subdued & real-seeming Jubei who doesn't chew the scenery like Chiba does. As he encounters the demonic warriors one by one, including the resurrected Musashi Miyamoto wonderfully played by Kyozo Nagatsuka, he seems really to delight in the opportunity of matching fighting skills with the greatest.
Although the demon figure is as high camp as the original version of this film, the rest is actually played very seriously, sometimes more seroiusly than in the original. The remake has several scenes that seem an improvement over the original, but it also has a few plot changes that make the new version a little harder to follow & not quite as consistent a story. In essence neither film is in the upper echelon of samurai films or fantasies, both are extremely entertaining, but Chiba as Jubei is still the more stunning figure so that the original edges out the remake by a nose.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl