Thrilling Chanbara Duels By Hideo Gosha

Japanese director Hideo Gosha’s work remains largely unavailable in North America outside of Three Outlaw Samurai (thank you Criterion) so it’s with great applause Film Movement has packaged two of his best period flicks together in Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut. These are can’t-miss films for Japanese genre enthusiasts, masterly crafted with an auteur’s fine touch. Originally dismissed as crude spaghetti western rip-offs, they slash right to the bone with furious swordplay and engaging characters.

Primarily directing Chanbara (literally swordfighting in Japanese) flicks throughout the 1960s and 1970s for Toei, the blistering samurai films by Gosha are punchy, economical and stylish. Driven by stellar black-and-white cinematography highlighting flurries of intense action and starring charismatic actor Isao Natsuyagi’s endearing performances, both are first-rate genre efforts. Villains like the mute samurai with a monkey at his command provide memorable genre fodder. Highly influenced by the work of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf 2 are measured responses to such masterpieces as Sanjuro and Yojimbo.

Samurai Wolf and Samurai Wolf 2 are measured responses to such masterpieces as Sanjuro and Yojimbo

Set during the Tenpō era, each taut entry offers bloody action featuring the same cynical, yet engaging, protagonist, Kiba the Furious Wolf. Played by a young Isao Natsuyagi, Kiba romances tragic women while proving he’s a cut above other samurai in battle.

He’s a wandering, hard-scrabble ronin who invariably gets caught up in local politics tangling with corrupt Shogunate officials, meanwhile falling for local women whose honor he ends up defending.

Projecting a tough, dispassionate exterior, Kiba’s clashes inevitably reveal his good nature and noble motives. Narrowly escaping death time and time again in brutal battles, tragedy often strikes those around him as surprises abound in each screenplay.

Samurai Wolf introduces Kiba, a samurai widely known for his fearsome reputation. Kiba crosses paths with the blind Lady Chise running a small but critical way-post in the Shogun’s empire. Dispatching a pair of wayward bandits robbing a courier, Lady Chise turns to Kiba for protection. The ronin discovers treachery and greed abound in the small town. It’s up to Kiba to save the small town from corrupt Shogunate officials as they bring in a notorious samurai to kill him.

Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut is a beautifully twisted genre tale of intrigue and razor-sharp action, borrowing many of the same beats seen in spaghetti westerns. The cruel period picture sees Kiba fall in love with the daughter of a local gang. Captured and left to die, the intricate plot culminates in a climactic set piece of astonishing suspense and brutality.

The first Samurai Wolf is a morality tale of mannered action with a bittersweet twist near the end, stylishly shaped by Gosha’s talented filmmaking. Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut is better by every measure, improving upon the original with a more compelling plot and character-driven storytelling. Most of Gosha’s filmography were chanbara tales and these are two of his very best movies outside masterpieces like yakuza thriller Violent Streets.


Film Movement gives both Gosha movies new 2K restorations from original “broadcast” film elements. Released in 1966 and 1967 respectively, the low-budget Japanese films make respectable jumps to HD with solid transfers.

Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut’s picture quality fares better than the first movie. Both films are sourced from satisfactory prints with no obvious wear, free of noticeable defects. Each running over seventy minutes, they are placed together on a single BD-50. Excellent AVC encodes handle the striking black-and-white cinematography.

Samurai Wolf’s 2.35:1 black-and-white presentation could use a tighter contrast but is otherwise a nice reproduction of a soft cinematic source. The 1080p resolution is film-like and unprocessed, if lacking in the high-end detail often seen in today’s best film scans from older negatives. The video is a bit dull with minimal depth, needing deeper black levels. A faithful grading looking to improve it would likely lower the brightness. The stylish cinematography however is a real gem.

Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut looks great, a top-notch transfer of sharp film elements loaded with pleasing definition and a perfect contrast. The 2.35:1 presentation exudes a vintage period charm of Japanese B-movies. The inky black levels and contrast are more refined than the first movie, offering stronger clarity.


Both films have perfectly serviceable Japanese monaural soundtracks heard in 2.0 PCM. Fidelity fares rather well with intelligible dialogue reproduction, if a tad restrained and cramped at the top end. Having a background in radio, Gosha emphasizes the quality sound effects. You’ll hear the swords slicing through the air in nice clarity.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font inside the scope presentation.


What a classy release from Film Movement, issuing two classic Gosha films together on Blu-ray for the first time in North America. Besides the new transfers, both films arrive on one disc in a clear case with an attractive slipcover. A 20-page booklet includes an extended new essay by Robin Gatto, author of Hideo Gosha: cinéaste sans maître. It discusses the genre and Gosha’s career, placing both films in their proper context and period.

The disc is coded for Region A.

Outlaw Director (15:38 in HD; Japanese audio with English subtitles) – An interesting Hideo Gosha featurette with Tomoe Gosha, the director’s daughter. She’s amazingly candid about her recollections of her father’s working life, rare insight from someone so closely related.

Audio commentary by Chris Poggiali on Samurai Wolf – Co-author of These Fists Break Bricks gives an informed solo discussion of Gosha’s work and the cast in this occasionally boring commentary.

Samurai Wolf Trailer (01:31 in HD)

Samurai Wolf 2: Hell Cut Trailer (01:24 in HD)

Violent Streets Trailer (01:31 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

Samurai Wolf 1 & 2
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Two thrilling period samurai flicks starring Kiba the Furious Wolf from master of the genre Hideo Gosha offering superb Chanbara action

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