Isao Natsuyagi returns once again as the tough but likable wandering ronin Kiba aka Furious Wolf. This time around, Kiba gets himself into all kinds of trouble as he rescues a woman from a group of attackers, gets himself on the security detail of a group of prisoners being transported across the desert land, finds himself targeted by another samurai to partake in a duel, and ends up in the middle of warring clans vying for gold buried in a nearby mine.
Slicker and swifter this time around, ‘Samurai Wolf II’ is still some dark, fight filled, chanbara entertainment but is perhaps unnecessarily complex and convoluted for its own good. The bevy of characters and side stories do mean Kiba is sidelined somewhat in favour of making all the story elements converge so the various characters can confront and kill one another. Likewise, the flashbacks to Kiba’s young life (showing him wandering the lands learning the samurai way from his ronin father) are also perhaps not needed (as these short, sharp, samurai flicks don’t really warrant the need for the main characters’ back story!) but are nicely shot and staged if a little redundant to the overall narrative.
In fact, ‘Samurai Wolf II’ looks even better than its predecessor, Gosha utilising lush black and white widescreen photography to frame some iconic looking samurai styling. The flick is also crammed with sword action including a beautifully shot duel at night set around a massive tree and the terrific final showdown in a desert mine that has many of the various characters facing off in epic style.
Much like the first film, female characters are important to the plot and while they aren’t as in abundance as the male samurai (and of course are unnecessarily put upon!), Yuko Kusunoki and Rumiko Fuji (as the two female leads) give strong performances and offer welcome respite to all the male samurai grunting and posturing.
Once again, the flick is pretty bleak but despite the dark tone and over convolution of the narrative, ‘Samurai Wolf II’ is a good companion piece to its predecessor and it’s great to see Isao Natsuyagi’s Kiba back in action.
Two short and sweet samurai flicks worthy of reappraisal thanks to these lush new presentations.