Three Outlaw Samurai – The Criterion Collection #596 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 24, 2012 by  

The filmmaking debut of legendary director Hideo Gosha and a fantastic samurai film with plenty of swordfighting action and an enjoyable storyline that makes this Criterion Collection Blu-ray worth watching and also worth owning!  Definitely recommended!

Image courtesy of ©1964 Shochiku Co., Ltd. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Three Outlaw Samurai – The Criterion Collection #596


DURATION: 93 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: B&W, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural Japanese with English subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: February 14, 2012

Directed by Hideo Gosha

Written by Keiichi Abe, Hideo Gosha, Eizaburo Shiba

Associate Producer: Gin’ichi Kishimoto, Tetsuro Tanba

Music by Toshiaki Tsushima

Cinematography by Tadashi Sakai

Art Direction by Junichi Ozumi


Tetsuro Tanba as Sakon Shiba

Isamu Nagato as Kyojuro Sakura

Mikijiro Hira as Einosuke Kikyo

Miyuki Kuwano as Aya

Yoshiko Kayama as Oyasu

Kyoko Aoi as Omitsu

Kamatari Fujiwara as Jinbe

Tatsuya Ishiguro as Uzaemon Matsushita

Jun Tatara as Yasugoro

Toshie Kimura as Oine

Yoko Mihara as Omaki

This first feature by the legendary Hideo Gosha is among the most beloved chanbara (sword-fighting) films. An origin-story offshoot of a Japanese television phenomenon of the same name, Three Outlaw Samurai is a classic in its own right. A wandering, seen-it-all ronin (Tetsuro Tamba) becomes entangled in the dangerous business of two other samurai (Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira), hired to execute a band of peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of a corrupt magistrate. With remarkable storytelling economy and thrilling action scenes, this is an expertly mounted tale of revenge and loyalty.

When it comes to Japanese cinema during the ’50s and ’60s, there were many samurai films produced but with “Sambiki no Samurai” (Three Outlaw Samurai), it was a national sensation on television.

Airing on Japan’s Fuji TV from 1963 through 1969, the drama series achieved a high rating  of 42%.  In Japan, anything over 25% is fantastic and not only did the studio Shochiku have a hot series, the three actors Tetsuro Tanba, Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira became the most popular actors because of the TV series.

And with the success of the first season, Shochiku decided to create a jidaigeki film based on the characters of the TV series and “Sambiki no Samurai” (Three Outlaw Samurai) and give Hideo Gosha the opportunity to direct his first film.

And in 1964, “Three Outlaw Samurai” was released in theaters and would become a classic samurai film in Japan which would later inspire a manga series and TV sequels that would air on TV Asahi last from 1987 through 1995 (featuring newer characters) and a final “goodbye” drama series which aired from Oct.-Dec. 1999 which would feature the return of original actor, Tetsuro Tanba.

And now, “Three Outlaw Samurai” makes its first Blu-ray and DVD appearance in North America courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

The film is the second Gosha film to be released by the Criterion Collection, the first release on DVD was Gosha’s second film (and his most popular film in the west), “Sword of the Beast” (1965).

“Three Outlaw Samurai” begins with a wandering ronin (samurai without a master) named Sakon Shiba (played by Tetsuro Tamba) who is looking for a place to sleep. He sees someone running from the mill, which he discovers a golden hair pin on the ground.  When he goes into the mill, he finds three peasants tying up a young woman and look as if they are going to kill him.

Sakon is not afraid of these three peasants with swords (especially since he knows they can not fight) but finds out that the woman they have captive is the daughter of the magistrate.

The peasant farmers have been pleading with the magistrate to listen to them as they are suffering.  They want to be heard but no one is listening.  So, they feel their only resort is to kidnap his daughter in hopes that he will listen.

Feeling bad for the farmers, Sakon decides to help them out.

Meanwhile, as word gets to the magistrate (played by Hisashi Igawa) that his daughter has been kidnapped, he and a few of his soldiers head towards the mill to rescue her. While the magistrate has an excellent samurai swordsman named Einosuke Kikyo (played by Mikijiro Hira) that probably could do the job, Kikyo has no intention of wasting his talents on killing peasants.

So, the magistrate and his soldiers try to rescue his daughter but is embarrassed by the ronin Sakon who manhandles the soldiers.  And the magistrate who refuses to listen to the peasants decides that he needs to fight them by using other means, so higher-ups do not find out that he and his men have failed in rescuing his daughter from a band of peasants.

The magistrate resorts to releasing ronin that are being held captive in a jail cell, three criminals and a nonchalant swordsman named Kyojuro Sakura (played by Isamu Nagato).  All are given releases only if they kill the samurai named Sakon who is aiding the peasants, and to ensure that happens, the magistrate has Kikyo lead them to the mill.

While walking towards the mill, a peasant farmer tries to run behind Sakura and in self-defense, Sakura slashes the man.  He finds out that the man he killed was not a samurai but a peasant farmer and this begins to stay within Sakura’s conscience.

Sakon sees samurai coming towards the mill and immediately shows off his excellent swordsmanship by killing one of them.  Sakura then prepares to fight him, but Sakon asks him why he would try to kill poor peasants who just want to be heard.  When Sakura as Kinkyo if what Sakon is saying is true, Kinkyo confirms it.

Immediately, Sakura stops fighting and tells everyone that he is joining Sakon to help the peasants.  And once again, the magistrate loses.

With the poor peasants now having two ronin’s defending them, the magistrate is beginning to worry, especially since his lord will be arriving in several days. The embarrassment of not being able to stop the peasants and their revolt, let alone two ronin’s is too much to bear.

So, the magistrate escalates things by hiring a dozen poor ronin’s who will do anything for money.  Because the peasants have his daughter, they will fight back by kidnapping and threatening to kill a peasant’s daughter.

Meanwhile, one of the female workers of the magistrate asks Kikyo to defend the peasants from the corrupted magistrate.  But will he?

As the Magistrate will do anything to get his daughter back, what punishment does he have in store for the peasants and the ronin’s that are assisting them?


“Three Outlaw Samurai” is presented in black and white (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  This 1964 film looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray.  Not only is there a good amount of grain, there is also a good amount of detail.  May it be the dirty floors of the mill or its wooden surroundings.

Closeups of the character show the sweat, grime and dirt on their faces, contrast is excellent, black levels are deep and white and gray levels are also very good.  I don’t think I’ve seen any sort of video problems or damage while watching this film, maybe a few instances of softness but other than that, this film looks fantastic.  No banding, no artifacts, no problems that stuck out.

According to the Criterion Collection, the new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm  print struck from the original negative.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Omage Systems DVNR was used for a small dirt, grain and noise reduction.


“Three Outlaw Samurai” is presented in Japanese monaural LPCM 1.0.    The dialogue is clear and I heard no hissing, crackles or any audio problems during my viewing.

According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.


“Three Outlaw Samurai – The Criterion Collection #596” on Blu-ray comes with a trailer.


“Three Outlaw Samurai – The Criterion Collection #596” comes with an 18-page booklet with the essay “The Disloyal Bunch” by New York Magazine writer Bilge Ebiri.

Having watched many jidageki/chambara films and dramas from Japan, this was my first time watching Hideo Gosha’s “Three Outlaw Samurai”.  And I absolutely loved it!

Sure, there is a banality when it comes to ronin who come into help the poor from evil bandits or warlords, but what I enjoyed about this film was its enjoyable story, its characters and also its swordfighting action!

For one, you have your calm, cool and collected samurai Sakon Shiba (starring legendary actor Tetsuro Tanba) and then you have someone different with Isamu Nagato’s Kyojuro Sakura, a man who can fight but also a man with a conscience.  A man who helps bring humor to the film because of his demeanor.  And then you have the playboy swordsman Einosuke Kikyo (played by Mikijiro Hira), doesn’t want to sully his sword with the blood with peasants but yet has no qualms about having sexual encounters with a local prostitute.

While the film is quite simple when compared to Akira Kurosawa’s jidaigeki films, bare in mind that “Three Outlaw Samurai” is Hideo Gosha’s filmmaking debut.  He obviously had magnificent company with three amazing actors who were extremely popular from the TV show, the benefit of having good writers, cinematographer and a crew.  May it be the swordfight choreography, the actors performances to its sociopolitical storyline, it’s a fantastic debut for Hideo Gosha and an important film that would help ignite a career with many fantastic films in his oeuvre.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Three Outlaw Samurai” looks fantastic on Blu!  Wonderful contrast, picture quality looked amazing with no blemishes or problematic scenes.   If anything, I wish there were more special features outside of the included trailer.  I suppose that I have been spoiled by Criterion Collection releases that I tend to expect a lot in terms of special feature content but it does explain why the price is cheaper compared to other Criterion Blu-ray and DVD’s.

Overall, if you are in the mood for a wonderful samurai film that isn’t too deep, easily accessible and has a lot of swordfighting action, definitely give “Three Outlaw Samurai” a a chance.  Definitely recommended!

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