Koch Vision // 1981 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 12th, 2005
It cuts to the heart of courage.
I'm not sure how else to say it. The Bushido Blade is a very bad movie that features a lot of very good actors. It is boring, poorly made, offensive, and sloppy. The DVD sucks too, so even fans of the star-studded cast should take a pass on this stinker.
In 1854, American Commodore Matthew Perry (Richard Boone, Have Gun, Will Travel) arrives in Japan to sign a treaty with the Shogun (Toshiro Mifune, Seven Samurai). In exchange for the new American technology that Perry has brought with him, the Shogun wants to send a national treasure back as a gift to the American President: The Bushido Blade, a sword that represents the code of the Samurai and everything that Japan holds dear.
When the blade is stolen by nationalist rebels led by Lord Yamato (Tetsuro Tamba, You Only Live Twice), the sword has to be recovered before the Shogun will sign the treaty. Prince Ido (Sonny Chiba, Kill Bill) is sent out to retrieve the blade or die trying. Perry also secretly sends three sailors in to find Yamato's castle, led by Captain Lawrence Hawk (Frank Converse, Solarbabies. They manage to rescue Prince Ido, hook up with a number of prisoners led by a shipwrecked captain (James Earl Jones, The Great White Hope), and meet an English-speaking fisherman (Mako, Conan the Barbarian). They also get it on with a variety of Japanese women, including half-Japanese, English-speaking Samurai babe, Tomoe (Laura Gemser, Black Emmanuelle).
This is the worst kind of Western imperialist fantasy, made even more painful by the way it pisses on the legacy of the great Japanese actors that are involved. I'm actually quite surprised that it's called The Bushido Blade since the sword itself represents Japanese ideals and doesn't really play into the story. The film opens on a shot of the American flag, and moves quickly to a group of samurai dazzled by the glorious technology of the Americans. The Japanese have brought gifts too, but nothing that the Americans care about. When the Shogun offers the Bushido Blade to Commodore Perry, the American insults the gift, not understanding how it could be so important. This is not about the meeting of two cultures, it's just a revamped Western with Japanese standing in as the displaced Native Americans. Prince Ido is the noble savage, a wild but skilled warrior, willing to fight against any odds. The Shogun is the tribal chief, dazzled by the seemingly mystical powers of the Westerners, offering up the history of his people for a shot at modern life.
The offensive ideas in The Bushido Blade wouldn't be quite so bad if it was a better movie. I suppose it must have been trying to cash in on the popularity of Shogun, but some fundamental differences keep it from getting anywhere close to the same quality. For one thing, Shogun had respect for Japanese culture and history. The Bushido Blade is a muddled mess: The main Japanese characters don't behave with any kind of honor; the idea of a female samurai is ludicrous; Captain Hawk would not be an even match with a samurai champion in a duel, nor would Prince Ido make him a samurai at the drop of a hat; so many of Japanese met by our Western heroes wouldn't be able to speak English (it being a closed country and all); and Commodore Perry would have found himself on the business end of a Katana for speaking to the Shogun with so little respect.
The acting is quite bland. Frank Converse lacks the charisma to play opposite Chiba, or even Gemser. The action scenes are poorly choreographed and horribly unsatisfying (these must be the weakest cinematic samurai ever). The plot is easy to follow, but feels contrived from the very first line. Why wasn't the legendary blade being guarded? Why would the Shogun send it to America? How did the Americans expect to find a specific castle in a new land where they didn't speak the languages and foreigners were imprisoned on sight? None of this really matters in the end, since the treaty is signed without the blade present, making the entire adventure a complete waste of time. That ending is simply the final nail in the coffin, a reminder of how pointless the whole affair is.
This DVD release of The Bushido Blade by Koch Vision only makes matters worse. The video transfer is full screen, and features some really bad framing. The quality is also poor because the transfer was taken from a tape master rather than the original 35mm print. Ugly is the only way to describe it, with all the shortcomings that we've come to expect from poorly digitized television transfers. Oh, and the film is cut too, but I don't know what was taken out. Probably more grisly violence and maybe some more boobies. Whatever. The sound is also flat and plain, with clear dialogue but not much else.
Thankfully, I didn't have to sit through many special features. There are some brief filmographies of the major players, but it's a pathetic, token effort.
When The Bushido Blade showed up on the screener list, I was a bit surprised that I had never heard of it. After all, it has several of the coolest guys ever among its cast (I kept waiting for a scene with Samuel L. Jackson, Chow Yun Fat, and Steve McQueen, but I guess they were busy that day). Now, I'm actually quite glad that I hadn't heard about it. If hardly anyone else finds out about this film, it will be less of an embarrassment to the legacy of these fine actors. So, please try to forget about this review as quickly as possible, and if you ever see a copy of The Bushido Blade, please hide it somewhere, perhaps behind a copy of From Justin to Kelly. That way, fewer people will know about it, and the world will be safe.
The Bushido Blade is not only guilty of being a terrible and disappointing effort, it also has dishonored some of Japan's greatest actors. It will hereby have its head placed on a pike outside the village as a warning to other films that might do the same.
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Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #71
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated