Special Report: The Balboa Theater Samurai Film Fest Report

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
San Francisco’s Balboa Theatre is in the midst of presenting its Samurai Fest – three weeks of new 35 mm prints of Japanese Samurai classics, co-presented by the Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA). The Samurai fest started last week and will run until December 22. These are the classics that film connoisseurs insist that every film lover needs to see. I resisted seeing them for years because I’m not interested in macho sword fighting, but when I started forcing myself to watch them, I got hooked. They not only deal in the action, but also in the internal workings of the mind and society.

“Throne of Blood” will play the 7th and 8th. This is the visually sumptuous and dramatic 16th Century Japanese version of Shakepeare’s Macbeth helmed by Akira Kurosawa in 1957. “New Tale of Zatoichi” directed by Tokuzo Tanaka (1963) will also screen.

On December 11 and 12 “Assasination” screens, directed by Masahiro Shinoda (1964). A swordsman who has the single-minded goal of assassination, pursues the hero, a master swordsman and political manipulator.

On December 17 and 18 the Balboa will be showing Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” widely considered one of the best action films ever made. In 16th century Japan, seven ronin defend a farming village from bandits. Social class is explored as well as human nature, good, evil, truth, and redemption. “Seven Samurai” is dramatic, passionate, and suspenseful with vibrant action and vivid characters. The samurai’s code of honor is a central focus. This film has been remade into the American Western,
“The Magnificent Seven” (1960).

On December 19 and 20 Kihachi Okamotos’ 1966 “Sword of Doom” will screen, along with Kurosawa’s 1962 “Sanjuro.”

On December 21 & 22 Okamoto’s “Kill” will screen. “Kill” is a send-up of the samurai film genre. “Kill” hovers between wild exaggeration and dry humor. Okamoto, who died early in 2005, makes a commentary on the samarai genre and violence. Kihachi Okamoto, who is part of the wartime generation, makes his most unequivocal statement about violence in Samarai Assasin (1965) with its empty, self-defeating victory.

Other classics featured at the Samurai fest are Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961), and Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s “Zatoichi on the Road.”

For more information, you can go to the Balboa Theatre website, at balboamovies.com.

In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
The Balboa Theater Samurai Film Fest Report
Three weeks of restored Samurai classics!