| Highly stylized and campy excursion into the samurai underworld
Director Gosha creates a strange world of the criminal underground during samurai times. Partially filmed on obvious sets with very gaudy lighting, this film bears a resemblance to some Shaw Brother films from Hong Kong. The acting is frequently very theatrical and it all points to an intentional effort to be over the top.
The film starts with three criminals sentenced to death but only seemingly executed. They are given the chance to become the shogun's "Shadow Police" or actually get executed. Of course they join the force and immediately have their vocal chords cut so they can't tell anyone who they work for. Well that's an interesting set-up, but suddenly the film jumps forward twenty years and we see the three men in the middle of a raid on an underworld boss' lair to find out who has a forged merchant license. The men are about to execute the boss when a woman jumps out to defend the boss with a ribbon weapon! One of the men recognizes her to be his daughter! The boss gets away and the man lets his daughter escape too. The daughter is caught by the boss as a traitor and this leads to a confrontation where all the shadow police and the boss get killed. The daughter, O'cho, like her father is mock executed and then recruited into the Shadow Police. She is instructed to complete her father's mission, find the forged license. This forces her to deal with the dead boss' crazed, criminal girlfriend, O'ren. Now the movie really gets going.
It's hard to describe a film that frequently stops for little solo dance numbers by the two lead actresses. Not on the regular sets but against theatrical fog lit by disco lights! The woman playing O'ren is really wild and has a nutty laugh. She often looks off camera and smiles at nobody. Another actor who plays Boss Hell, the local constable, is absolutely off the wall. He likes to lick the evidence and keep it in his mouth among other eccentric behaviors. He would easily fit in a modern Miike film.
The art direction is very good. The sets were not made to be realistic and that's fine. The music track is eccentric. The actors all do a good job. The fights are very good at times although it's not clear why swordsmen would be so fearful of a ribbon.
Fun and enjoyable, the nearly two hour length is almost too much. Not the best from Gosha but certainly a good effort.