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Shinsengumi Chronicles: I Want To Die A Samurai (1963)
Movie Reviews

Shinsengumi Chronicles: I Want To Die A Samurai (1963)

A stirring samurai classic from the creators behind both the Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi series of films.

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Shinsengumi Chronicles: I Want To Die A Samurai (Shinsengumi Shimatsuki) is the remastered samurai classic from AnimEigo that was originally released in 1963. Based on the best-selling novel by Kan Shimosawa (creator of Zatoichi), the film is an epic tale that follows the historic Shinsengumi, a special police force composed of of ronin, farmers and peasants that was established in 1863 to protect the Mibu district of Kyoto. The film is directed by Kenji Misumi of Lone Wolf and Cub fame (as well as many of the infamous Zatoichi films) and stars Raizo Ichikawa (of the SHINOBI NO MONO series) as Susumu Yamasaki, a honest man who joins the Shinsengumi out of admiration and respect of its leader, Isami Kondo (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama, star of Lone Wolf and Cub), and because he wants the honor of dying as a samurai. But as he serves, harsh reality and idealism come into deadly conflict, forcing him to reevaluate his decision.

I’ll be honest, the film is a little slow during the first half due to it minute dealing with political intrigue that focuses on a lot of samurai just sitting around talking.  Those interested in samurai and/or bushido protocol and lore might find these moments fascinating, but things really start to get interesting during the small fights and skirmishes that happen along the way; the closing battle scene especially showcases a rare, raw frenzy of energy from the cast. The admiration Susumu has for Kondo is pretty moving throughout the film, though there are subtle yaoi undertones in the film in regards to the relationship of the two men. It’s real power lay in how effectively it makes you question who’s on the right side, because there’s bad things happening on both.

The picture and sound quality is great as to be expected from AnimEigo, with easy to read subtitles that make those of us not fortunate enough to understand Japanese able to follow without issue.  I always enjoy seeing how much care goes into their remastering process, and it still holds true in this release. The scenes are as clean as they ever were (and maybe more so), and the sounds are as sharp as they can be. The special features are as equally excellent, consisting of all the usual bits you’d expect, including image gallery, cast & crew bios, program notes, and theatrical trailers of the film.

Shinsengumi Chronicles: I Want To Die A Samurai (Shinsengumi Shimatsuki) is yet another great samurai classic from AnimEigo’s seemingly never-empty vault of Japanese films.  Fans of director Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi) will find much to love here as he beautifully reconstructs one of Japan’s most defining eras with a story that will cause you to second-guess who’s on the right side of history.  It’s definitely a slow-starter, and while its relaxed opening moments may cause the less patient fans to seek their samurai bloodlust thrills elsewhere, those who stick with it will be rewarded with a thoroughly satisfying epic that’s worth the investment.

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About the Author: Chris Mitchell