Samurai Saturday - Six-String Samurai
This one’s gonna be weird to write. I can’t even imagine how tough it would be had I not seen the movie before! Today, in this amalgam of Impulse Buy Theater and a new segment, Samurai Saturday, we’re taking a look at the 1998 film Six-String Samurai. Let’s take a look at the synopsis before I give anything away:
In 1957, Russia launched a first strike nuclear attack on the United States, leaving most of the country an irradiated wasteland under Soviet control. From the ashes arose Lost Vegas, the last remaining free state under the reign of The King himself, Elvis Pressley. Now, 40 years later, the King is dead and the call goes out far and wide for a new sovereign. Can Buddy, the fabled Six-String Samurai, successfully beat out the competition, traverse these dangerous wastes and claim the crown for his own?
How does one describe this movie? Honestly, that’s probably a question most viewers have been struggling with since its release back in ’98. Wikipedia calls it a “post-apocalyptic action comedy” while other publications such as Fangoria have termed it a little differently as a “post-apocalyptic musical satire”. Both of these descriptors are true…but also really don’t effectively convey the fun of the film nor its fever-dreamlike quality. Personally I think I’d call it “post-apocalyptic acid action”.
Speaking of the action, it’s a great blend of Samurai sword-play and kung-fu action…not nearly as embellished as a fair amount of Hong Kong cinema, but the influence is clearly there. Helping to sell that is the actor playing Buddy, Jeffrey Falcon, a Hong Kong cinema veteran, keeping the action, though ridiculous, still believable. Further influence is on display on the types of fight scenes we get. Right off the bat we get a scene of Buddy rescuing an orphan form the brigands that have already killed the boy’s mother, taking on about 3 or 4…I think it’s 3…at one time. As the pair continue their travels, the groups or tribes vary in size and costume/attire (I think my favorites were the Windmill people), along with the occasional one-on-one duel, until on the outskirts of their destination they take on the entire Red Army laying siege to Lost Vegas itself. Being a vital component to the story, it’s important that these fights are pulled off well and I’m very pleased to report that each of them are engaging and, with a run time of 91 minutes, the film knows when to wrap things up preventing the viewer from ever getting bored of all the chop-socky.
To give Fango its due, there are satirical elements here, mostly surrounding the 50’s and the cold war, but also reaching out into other eras as well. For the 50’s, we’ve got nods to cowboy Clint Eastwood, a twisted Cleaver family from Leave It To Beaver (or any other 50’s sitcom family I suppose), rock contemporaries Jerry Lee Lewis and Ritchie Valens and, of course, Buddy Holly. Jabs at media from other eras include Death bearing a striking resemblance to Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Lost Vegas looking like the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz and a certain corpse fading away like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. The trip to the Underworld to save the boy certainly has its roots in mythology and the standard hero’s quest with far too many examples to recount here.
As it should be, the music here is one of the prime standouts. For those familiar with Brian Tyler’s score for Bubba Ho-Tep, you know what to expect here, a fantastic mix of surf and rockabilly that fits the nature of what’s on screen to a T. To give it a little more of a Russian feel, after all, they are trekking through Russian territory, the Red Elvises have been brought in to drop songs in from time to time as well. And what do they bring to the table? This really fun mix of funk, rockabilly, surf and traditional Russian folk music that ends up becoming an earworm for being equal parts catchy and bizarre. There truly is no other way to describe it in words…you have to listen to it. The best thing I can say is that after this most recent watching, I need to track some of their albums down. And it’s only fitting that such off the beaten path music highlights such a unique film.
It’s also worth mentioning the cinematography, as this is at times one very beautiful looking film. While most certainly this is a low budget affair, Kristian Bernier makes sure it doesn’t look that way, especially with some of his utterly captivating landscape shots. Very simply, there are moments in Six-String Samurai that if your film snob friend walked into the room, you know the one, he’d be deceived that you’ve finally come to your senses and embraced the art film. Of course, then the bowling themed assassins come out and all matter of kung-fu breaks out and he huffs and moves on. As he should, the right tosser. Right, ahem, where was I? Oh, yeah, through Bernier’s lens, this film looks far better than it has any right to.
Unfortunately, there are two things keeping this movie from being perfect. First and foremost is the kid. The main issue I have here is that while I get that for the bulk of the film they need to portray him as feral, and thus, only speaking through shouts of ‘uuuuuuuh!’ and ‘aaaaaah’…fuck it’s annoying. Then you find out that the fucker could talk the whole time? Sorry, but if I were Buddy, that’s when I cleave the little bastard in two. Second is Buddy himself. Jeffery Falcon’s voice is a little higher pitched that I was expecting and when he delivers dialogue…it…it just doesn’t sound right. I mean, it’s not anyone’s fault, except for mine really for having some sort of preconceived notion, but, I’m reviewing the movie and I gotta be honest, it bugged me. Your mileage is definitely going to vary on that though.
To wrap up, let’s delve into a little bit of story time, shall we? I actually first saw this film fresh off its home video release back in ’98 and, oddly enough, it was indeed on a trip to Vegas. It’s that coincidence perhaps as to why this film always stuck in my gullet, the feelings of nostalgia. But I wouldn’t have found this film on my own. As I’m sure any of us film oriented adults can reflect, you always had a friend with a specialty: the anime friend, the art film “friend” (because he was too cool for actual friends), the horror friend and, in this instance, that one friend you could count on to find the absolute weirdest things cinema had to offer. For that trip, he’d brought with him both The City of Lost Children and this. The former is an oddity that I need to go back and re-evaluate…but Six-String Samurai? That’s a debt I can never repay, and so, Chas, if you’re out there, this one’s for you!
TLDR: Kung-Fu action and samurai duels all wrapped up in a surf/rockabilly post-apocalypse desert, you’ve never seen anything like Six-String Samurai. Some of you will come away feeling like “What the fuck did I just watch?” but for those of you that get it, and I include myself, this will be a gem on your shelves that, once you find the right friend, you’ll get that grin on your face that indicates you’re up to no good before you ask them…”Have you ever watched THIS?” And they’ll thank you for it. That earns a Hypno Cat in our book!