26 September 2016 | t_atzmueller
Dated Samurai TV-Drama, but very recommendable for nostalgia-fans
The basic story of this 15-episode mini-series may sound vaguely familiar: the young Aoi Tsinoske embodies all the values and virtues expected from a Samurai of the Tokugawa-era. He's honourable, dutiful and brave. At the day of his wedding, he is ordered to help put down an uprising of Christians (historically known as the Shimbara-Rebellion). Though the mission is a success, Tsinoske doesn't realize that his cousin Jyudayu, an ambitious and jealous man, who envies Tsinoske's handsome wife and career, has been plotting against him. This leads to Tsinoske being wrongfully accused, losing his rank and wife, and being sentenced to life on a prison island. After ten years, Tsinoske manages to escape with the help of a jovial ex-monk and, with the help of a treasure map, returns to Edo, to take revenge on those that have schemed against him and redeem his name, his wife and honor.
Of course it is a Japanese retelling of Alexander Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo", set in the 17th century Japan. In Germany (back then, both divided countries; to my knowledge it was even more so in East-Germany, where it was dubbed into German) this show was immensely popular. In the west this was probably due to James Clavell's "Shogun" (with Richard Chamberlain) being a TV-hit, watched religiously by millions, as well as an upcoming fascination with Asian history, most likely thanks to the popularity of a million of Kung-Fu-flicks. Of course today that is very different: no countryside hamlet without at least one Sushi restaurant and many kids being more than familiar with Manga and Anime, to a point where some already speak of "German Otaku" (roughly meaning "nerds", who have a fixation on everything Japanese, to a point where it's turning into obsession). But for those who saw the show during its original runs in the early 1980's – many of us still being kids – will remember that there was a distinct air of exclusivity surrounding it that was fascinating, yet strange and unexplored. Probably more so to the Germans who were literally "walled up" in the East and only had a very limited access to the world surrounding them.
Then, for the next 30 years, "Die Rache des Samurai" (the German title, translated as "The Revenge of the Samurai") seemed to have disappeared from the face of the planet. Even a few years back, when searching for information on the internet, all one could usually find was a lone fan-page and forums where like-minded people seemed on a quest to find the series as well (or rather tried to find people who had recorded it back in the heyday of video-cassettes). Which would indicate that the show wasn't very successful in Japan or too popular in other countries (though don't quote me on that; I could be wrong). Only recently, German company "Pidax", apparently specializing in re-releasing lost treasures, brought this out on DVD, making many a viewer's childhood dream come true.
About the show itself: one can definitely tell the age. Though the settings are handsome and the choreography and swordfights are as professional as one would expect from a Japanese production, the overall feel is slightly static, at times even reminding of a chamber-play. There is precious little violence, which even back in the day stood in stark contrast to the bloody Hong Kong flicks, and I distinctly recall schoolmates quipping, that apparently Japanese swords kill you without spilling a drop of blood. Of course more contemporary, realistic Samurai-films have cleared that "myth". The actors are professional, though at times a little hammy, especially lead actor Masao Kusakari, who was obviously cast for his tall frame and good looks (from what I understand, he's half-American and was especially popular, both as singer and actors, among a female audience). But that shouldn't be considered a bad thing; Kusakari does a good job at carrying the sympathy of the viewer, and likewise Jean Marais and Richard Chamberlain, both of whom have been cast as the classic Edmond Dantes, had not been cast on acting skills alone. Norihei Miki as Tsinoske's sidekick and comic relief tends to steal the scenes he's in, although those comedic "interludes" do occasionally distract from the generally sober storyline.
Since I still have not managed to find any other versions, a word about the "Pidax"-DVD-release: don't expect too much in the ways of quality and sound; it is what it is: probably taken straight from the only video-tape one could find. There are no special features, not even original sound (apparently the Japanese version had 23 parts, but I have no idea if that is available only as bootleg or has been remastered), but the German synchronization is as professional as one would expect, though at close look, the dialogue doesn't always match the lip-movements. But those are minuscule issues for people who have spent up to three decades waiting for an official release. For younger viewers it may be a little slow and action-free, but fort those who're interested in a different version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" – and of course to those who've seen it during the original airings – I can only recommend it. 7/10