Customer Reviews: Three Outlaw Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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on February 14, 2012
Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.

Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.

The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment."

While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.

Despite how fantastic Three Outlaw Samurai looks and sounds, it literally has no special features. This is a bit unusual since nearly every Criterion Collection release I've come across is usually loaded with goodies. All that's included is the theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri. So hopefully you weren't looking forward to this release for the special features alone.

Three Outlaw Samurai is a black and white film that's unrated and presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It's approximately 93 minutes long, has a new English subtitle translation, and features high definition digital restoration. The film is now available on both Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray at most retail outlets and online stores.
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on February 7, 2012
In my collection of samurai movies this is number one. Once in a while a movie achieves that balance between action and story. This is it. It's not to high brow, not over action. All in beautiful black and white. I had hoped Criterion Collection would catch notice of this movie and they have. Can't go wrong with this one.
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on March 20, 2013
I bought Three Outlaw Samurai "cold" -- that is, without ever having seen it before, or even hearing anything about it. I was half-expecting to be disappointed, but I wasn't. This movie is just plain great.

The story concerns a group of peasants who kidnap the daughter of a corrupt local official, in the hopes of attracting his attention to the plight of the poor townsfolk. Several samurai tough guys happen to be in the area, and the plot hinges on whether these samurai will decide to help the peasants. While this scenario seems quite simple on the surface -- and I suppose it is -- director Hideo Gosha handles it expertly, generating lots of suspense and sympathy for the characters.

Surprisingly, some commentators consider this film an inferior "rip-off" of Kurosawa fare like Seven Samurai. I have a couple of responses to that. First, I don't think Kurosawa really invented the samurai genre, or even the type of world-weary samurai character so often played by Toshiro Mifune (e.g., the samurai character of Tange Sazen predates Kurosawa's stuff). Also, because Three Outlaw Samurai is very short, violent, and "punchy," it has a different feel/tone from Seven Samurai and similar Kurosawa epics, so I don't think the two films really conflict or negate each other at all. I enjoy both styles quite a bit.

Meanwhile, Criterion's DVD of Three Outlaw Samurai has a very nice print that highlights the beauty of the film's black-and-white photography. (I'm kicking myself for not buying the Blu-Ray instead, but hey, I had no idea I'd like this so much!) There aren't any great special features to speak of, though the DVD comes with an essay that provides interesting details on Gosha's career and the TV show that inspired this film. So on the whole, this DVD gets my enthusiastic seal of approval.
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on January 27, 2012
Caught this movie on either IFC or the Sundance channels "Samurai Saturdays" where they would show subtitled Japanese samurai movies at 5am in the morning. As a fan of Samurai movies like Yojimbo and The Lone Wolf & Cub movies I was shocked I had never heard of the film before it aired on the channel. After seeing it I payed way too much for a Japan region version of the film online and enjoyed it ever since.

So glad this film is getting a Criterion release and will hopefully finally get its deserved recognition by samurai movie fans in the west.
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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" 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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on December 23, 2012
The reviewer of 05/05/12 gave an excellent assessment of this film, with background, and I suggest you read that essay. My own reaction is very positive, though I have some minor quibbles. The story revolves the discontents of peasants, who kidnap the daughter of the local headman in order to have some leverage for their protest -- they hope shortly to present a petition of grievances to the overall lord of the region, who will shortly be passing through. An itinerant samurai offhandedly takes up their cause, only to become more deeply committed to it and in the end drawing two other fellow warriors to pledge their support as well. Romantic subplots affect the thoughts and actions of each of the three. This film is the first by director Hideo Gosha, whose most famous effort (at least on this side of the Pacific) is Sword of the Beast, and the storytelling is sharp and compact: We walk in right in the middle of the action, and scene transitions are sometimes abrupt with the plot advanced offstage but conveyed intelligently, in the manner of a short story rather than a novel. The cinematography is excellent, as is the attention to detail, and the film packs a good number of twists and shifts for its hour and a half length. Some have dismissed it as derivative of the films of Akira Kurosawa -- in particular, that it's a poor man's Seven Samurai. And certainly in places this movie has a Kurosawa look, but so what? And as for it being a lesser imitation of Seven Sam, it's simply not. The story is similar but not identical, and the fact that a given film might not be as good as Citizen Kane or Godfather II is hardly a reason for dismissing it. I do wish that the attitudes of the entire peasant community were depicted more fully, and at times the principal women are difficult to distinguish. Those nits aside, this is an excellent if ultimately dark film
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I love samurai movies! I named my dog Yojimbo. This is a good movie with three very different samurai. I have watched it several times and no doubt will again. It's not in the same field as 7 Samurai or Hidden Fortress. But it is entertaining and the film looks great. If you like black and white samurai flicks you will like this.
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on December 20, 2014
Film = 3 (three) stars; restoration = 5 (five) stars. Director Hideo Gosha has conjured up yet another version of a samurai sub-cultural way of life in this 1964 photoplay. The interactions between different food-chain classes of sword swingers and different/aberrant samurai honor codes within the same samurai class make for welcomed breaks between typical (more or less) slashing scenes. The plot revolves around three samurai who are torn between the plight of the down trodden (as usual) peasants (here the lowest of the low class from which these samurai seemed to have emerged (and would probably like to--but can not--forget) and the local rulers who pay slasher salaries. (What might make for a far more interesting script would be to explore how peasants managed to become skilled and educated samurai equal to those who have inherited samurai class standing). Acting is for the most part dynamic (and not role-based stereotypical--facial expressions are hard to forget), and directing/editing is first rate. Cinematography (wide-screen, black and white) and scene lighting are excellent. Music is a bit jarring, but otherwise OK. Subtitles seem reasonably close to the actual dialog which is a challenge to always comprehend due to the use of regional slang. Worth watching once. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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on April 8, 2012
A very good samurai film. Classic honor vs money/greed/power tale with interesting characters on all sides. Worth watching. I liked a more recent film called "Twilight Samurai" even better. Check it out, a masterpiece.
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on July 8, 2016
Three Outlaw Samurai, unlike many, many samurai films, focuses on character development, and lets the action develop gradually. I was so impressed by the acting, costumes and set design of the film, as well as the cinematography. The director uses zooms and a moving camera to make the audience feel like they are right there with the characters, and it also helps with the pacing of the film.

The story is about a samurai wandering through the countryside when he comes across an old mill, where a woman is being held hostage. As he learns more about the situation, he begins to sympathize with the kidnappers, who are starving peasants trying to negotiate better treatment from their local magistrate.

The movie packs a lot of action and story into a short running time, and I really enjoyed the film. I just wish there were some extras!
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