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B-Movie: G.I.Samurai


When it comes to time-travel movies, I usually like them best when they make an effort to include the method or some kind of reasoning behind why or how the story’s protagonists end up stampeding about outside the boundaries of linear time. If I was hoping for any of that in G.I.SAMURAI, then disappoint awaited. But while the mistreatment of such a critical — in my mind — element to a plot usually has me turning away from a movie in disgust, something about this 1979 Japanese action flick kept me entertained enough to forgive this indiscretion and ultimately (and inexplicably) end up really enjoying the movie.

Forget any notion of a plot. This film simply doesn’t need one, because at its core is one simple idea: Who would win if you pit a platoon of modern (well, modern for the late 70’s) soldiers against the clans of the warring Samurai from 16th century Japan.

The short answer to that question is: Awesome wins!

The long answer is that you can read as much as you like into this film. Maybe there’s an anti-war message. Maybe it’s a movie about being true to your nature. Maybe it’s about loyalty… about honour… about courage… blah, blah… If you start looking for these things, then maybe you missed the bit where I said this movie was about a platoon of modern soldiers fighting an unlimited supply of friggin Samurai!

Lieutenant Iba (Sonny Chiba) and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) element in his charge gather for maneuvers, when they are inexplicably sent back in time by a virtually un-watchable special effect sequence. Before long they find themselves pinned down by dozens of bow and arrow wielding feudal warriors. A situation they treat with some bemusement, until the killing power of these ancient weapons is revealed.

When it becomes apparent that the soldiers are trapped 400 years in the past, Iba struggles to maintain some semblance of order. But after he is forced to use deadly action against some of his own men, he realises that he and the remaining soldiers must take drastic measures if they ever want to return to their own time. Teaming up with local war leader, Nagao Kagetora, Iba and his men launch an offensive against history itself.

Believing that history will retaliate by sending them back to their own time, the platoon uses their modern weapons — which include an APC, a helicopter and a tank — to help Kagetora begin his quest for domination of Japan (which he and Iba will joint-rule). It’s a win / win plan, with only two possible outcomes: The soldiers are either returned home, or they rule 16th century Japan… What could possibly go wrong?

There are more than a few glaring errors in this film, both of a technical and storytelling nature, and while I suspect that some poor subtitle translations may have something to do with the latter, none of them really detract from one’s ability to enjoy this movie. At its heart G.I.Samurai is a pure-blood, b-movie, action-film with a higher body count than Schwarzenegger’s whole career. But it’s impossible to dismiss it as nothing more than that.

Maybe it IS a movie about being true to your nature… or loyalty, honour and courage. Just because I said you shouldn’t start looking for these cues, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Or perhaps it’s just a very well made action-movie from the late 70’s? Whatever the case, I can think of a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching this Japanese classic again.

I’ve seen reviews of this film kicking about the net that aren’t too complementary, but there are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind if you’re planning to seek this film out. The new version that’s out on DVD now has about 40 minutes of extra footage that wasn’t in the original US release. And, more importantly, try not to lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about a b-movie here… not The Dark Knight. [source] [buy]

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    I loved The Dark Knight so I should love this!

    That IS what you meant wasn’t it?

    Bumblebee tuna.

  • Pfft. the Dark Pussy… he doesn’t kill ANY Samurai in his film.

  • He did kill ninjas in his first film though… This sounds like a much better attempt at the modern military travelling through time genre. I vaguely remember a movie where an aircraft carrier jumped back to world war 2… I was surprised that they managed to take such a cool concept and ruin it.

  • I think you’re thinking of the Philadelphia Experiment xike.

    There’s also been a few remakes of this film (GI Samurai), some only in concept, but there was at least one direct remake a couple of years ago which went into more detail about how they ended up going back and the effect it had on the future.

    I’ll try to hunt up a copy of it if I can.

  • The Philadelphia Experiment freaks me out. So does this movie.