A 1995 film about an American executive on a business trip to Japan who finds
himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and becomes one of the spoils of a generations-long war between a clan of ninja assassins and a samurai school.
Starring: Christopher Lambert as Paul Racine (the executive); John Lone as Kinjo (the ninja baddy); Joan Chen as Kirina (the love interest) and Yoshio Harada as Takeda-sensei (the samurai badass).
At first encounter, the storyline sounds like something out of a hack fiction novel. The only reason I originally saw this movie was for the soundtrack, featuring the sublime stylings of the 21-member taiko band, Kodo. But within ten minutes of popping the tape into the VCR, I knew I'd stumbled across a winner. Christopher Lambert does a decent job of portraying an average American Joe thrust into a perilous situation the nature of which he can barely comprehend, and from which there is no escape. Takeda and Kinjo, each the head of a warrior clan and possessing serious ass-kicking skillz, are nonetheless very human characters who make mistakes out of pride, stubborness or an unwillingness to stray from a rigidly-defined code of honor.
While Christopher Lambert is the main character and primary source of comic relief, he is by no means the sole focal point of the story. Unwillingly caught up in the ancient feud, he spends a third of the movie playing the innocent victim. Becoming increasingly discontent with his samurai guardians/captors, he learns the basics of swordfighting from an aged weaponsmith. When the fighting gets really rough, will be be able to use his rudimentary skills to stay alive? Among other things, the movie teaches us that every man is ultimately responsible for taking control of his own destiny.
The cinematography and lighting are top notch. From big-city Tokyo to the secluded island samurai school to the wooded ninja hideout, scenery plays an important role in the fight sequences as well as providing an enthralling backdrop for the story. Of particular note is the bloodiest action sequence of the movie, a protracted fight scene that takes place on a speeding bullet train
Followers of the martial arts will appreciate the attention paid to detail in this movie. The art of kendo is accurately represented, moreso than in any other Hollywood film I've seen. The swordfights and hand-to-hand combat are well choreographed. Most of the combat features swords, but several period weapons make an appearance. Archers provide defensive cover, women samurai attack with naginata and spear, and the ninja have their own bag of tricks. Christopher Lambert's ability to learn full-on kendo in a few short weeks is highly unrealistic, as it normally takes years of practice before students are allowed to pick up bladed weapons. Suspending my disbelief on this and other minor points, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.