SHADOW HUNTERS (1972) Review: The Perfect Kind Of Chambara With Old School Fun, And A Pinch Of Sleaze
Director: Toshio Masuda
Starring: Yujiro Ishihara, Ryohei Uchida, Mikio Narita, Ruriko Asaoka, Isao Tamagawa, Tetsuro Tamba
More at Filmsmash.com
In the era of the Shogun, a battle in the shadows takes place where lords and fiefdoms are under constant threat of conspiracy, land grabs, and evil machinations. As the government tries to take more land under its control, a group of ronin act as mercenaries to prevent this by working under smaller lord’s orders. Among them are the dominant Jubei (Ishihara), the stoic Moonlight (Uchida), and the lascivious Sunlight (Narita). These three find themselves embroiled within a dispute between a small seemingly poor mountain kingdom and between a whole lot of gold and ninja.
A Toho production directed by the prolific and successful Toshio Masuda, Shadow Hunters features that right mix of funky 70s era exploitation vibe crossed with competent swordplay that makes for not only a memorable but thoroughly entertaining watch. Adapted from the manga by Saito Takao, the film carries a breathless energy that only so quickly sucks you in; the opening sequence features the aftermath of a ninja attack with body parts littered throughout, but carries you with expediency and urgency. Not only do we get a brief but revealing look at each of our leads and their backstory that brought them together, but we also see forward progress that hints at adventures to come.
Ishihara, who also provides a memorable theme song, dominates with bulging eyes and a wildness that dominates the screen; he’s got the most to do but as the de facto leader it makes sense. His extended backstory featuring the lovely Asaoka is nothing special but provides an interesting aside to the mission at hand.
Uchida’s cool and smooth Moonlight is equal parts nihilistic and sentimental; he’s a character that has lost a lot but trudges forwards with quiet willfulness. Conversely, the humorous but dirty minded Sunlight, played with what looks to have been a lot of fun by Narita, lives more for the moment and the immediate. He’s more than a little unreliable at times but a good comrade to have in a pinch. Coupled with a solid performance by Tamagawa and an unforgettable appearance by the inimitable Tetsuro Tamba, the cast is terrific.
Swordplay levels vary but never dip below a certain level. Uchida is perhaps most impressive in his scenes with Ishihara having more to do despite being a weaker on-screen fighter. Narita is better than average though all three dominate in the finale which showcases some great uneven terrain action: notoriously difficult to shoot and even harder to execute well; this film pulls it off admirably.
With a short running time, great funky music, and some great characters, Shadow Hunters is the perfect kind of chanbara film to view for some old school fun and just that little bit of sleaze. While certainly not an epic in any real sense, Shadow Hunters will easily occupy a space for wholly entertaining chanbara and jidai geki.
Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP! Find more of me at filmsmash.com!
You must log in to post a comment.