Kiru (1968)
(AKA: KILL! [U.S. English Title])
(Release Date: June 22, 1968)
(USA Release Date: March 10, 1969)

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Who's killing who? Who's defending who?
What's the story with Kiru?

Bokken Throwing Mother Fucker!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Somewhere in the dusty wilds of Japan, some place in the general vicinity of Edo, a lone vagrant named Genta wanders in search of food and peace. In his travels he comes across a farmer named Hanji, who desperately wants to become a Samurai, in a town demolished by a tug of war between the Yakuza and a local band of brigand ronin. It appears that the town is filled with more secrets than the "Top Men" warehouse at the end of Raiders as evidenced as the local squabbles manage to pull in this starving wanderer and his new lil' buddy, Hanji (Takahashi Etsushi).

What Hanji doesn't know is that Genta has a few thousand secrets of his own. As it turns out, this buffoonish vagrant is actually the Samurai Yagenta Hyodo (Nakadai Tatsuya), who disdains his old life, but might be ready to pick up the sword again if it will help him redeem his past. All the while, he's casually attempting to talk Hanji out of following in his own footsteps and joining the marauding ronin himself. He's even casual when Hanji is ordered to kill him.

It's the plight of seven of the peasants who attempt an uprising that pulls Genta back in like ol' Mikey in Godfather III. However, he soon finds out that he's not the only thing that isn't what it seems and there are more shades of gray in each and every character in each and every camp than there is in the film stock of this Black and White classic. Genta can't protect everyone at once (not even himself) and there's only so far he can go pretending to be part of so many different groups. It's great watching him try, though, especially as the tables turn like a record in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

What separates Kiru (or Kill!) from the majority of Samurai films out there (aside from the fact that you can't make references to Breakin' movies in reviews for most of them) is that it's a thinly veiled wild comedy, with more deadpan laughs than brutal shocks. Yes there is a fair amount of violence and blood in this movie, but the silly spirit of black comedy keeps this from becoming too incredibly heavy. Nakadai makes for an likeable and sympathetic lead, who handles the silly slapstick, the deadpan humor and the dreary drama with equal aplomb. You're never quite sure where he's going, but you're perfectly happy to follow along!

In spite of this, as Genta himself finds, with so very much intrigue in so many varied places, it's occasionally difficult to sort out who might be who, what group might be doing what to which other group and who might be the good, the bad and the ugly. Luckily, there's also a brothel full of hotties that leaves little ambiguity concerning which camp they're in. This isn't a movie you can watch out of the corner of your eye, even if you've got enough Japanese skills to ignore the subtitles. This isn't your one note, single layer plot, and while it's not quite up to the best of Kurosawa, Kiru is a complex, fun ride. But then, if it's Akira Kurosawa you want, might I recommend 1962's Tsubaki Sanjűr˘, which, like Kiru is also based on the Yamamoto Shugoro novel Peaceful Days. This version, written by Murao Akira and Okamoto Kihachi, is neatly, and often hilariously, held together by Okamoto Kihachi (who also directed). If you can't handle either version, might I recommend such brain-optional fare as Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight.

All jokes and insults aside, Kiru is never dull, very funny and always action packed, right up to the fully satisfying final scene. In case the viewer isn't sure just what they're watching, or what they're in for, the music, by composer Sat˘ Masaru makes it clear as blown glass, with his wild, wild west oriented score. It's as if he and Okamoto are intentionally giving us, not just a send-up of the genre, but a newly staked claim to the Samurai territory jumped by the US Westerns so very often. This, coupled with Nishigaki Rokuro's cinematography, allows for a textured and ticklish experience, packed with violence and laughs, often at the same time. The closest analogy I can make is to Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, but trust in Kneumsi, this one stands on its own and has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

Being both imperfect and infinitely watchable, I'm giving this multi-layered Samurai/ Ronin/ Shogunate/ Peasant action comedy Four throwing Stars out of Five! Watch for the silent but violent showdown between the like minded friends Genta and Oikawa Tetsutaro (Kubo Naoko). It's just one of the many morally ambiguous scenes in Kiru that keeps the viewer's brain sharp and fully on edge. What a flick to watch! So, until my goofy friend Weiland reveals that he's actually a Jedi Knight who has come to end all oppression, I'll see you in the next surprising reel. The word Huzzah comes to mind.

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Kiru (1968) Reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
who is totally responsible for the content of this website
and the broken bow he handed back to a kid named Meloncon back in 1990.
(It was literal, Pentagon, don't hunt me down.)
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No Mr. Roeper in this one. No Jack, No Chrissy... No Ja-... well, yeah, Janet and Larry, but nobody else!
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