Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

three outlaw samurai poster 1964 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Nice alternative to Akira Kurosawa films

Benefits from a second viewing

Movie Info

Movie Name: Three Outlaw Samurai

Studio:  Shochiku

Genre(s): Action/Adventure/Martial Arts

Release Date(s):  May 13, 1964

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

three outlaw samurai miyuki kuwano tetsuro tamba

I’m just trying to explain to you that your dad is kind of an a-hole.

Aya (Miyuki Kuwano) who is the daughter of a magistrate named Uzaemon Matsushita (Tatsuya Ishiguro) has been kidnapped by peasants demanding justice from her father.  When a ronin named Sakon Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba) defends the peasants, he finds himself involved in the people’s struggle against Uzaemon Matsushita.  Uzaemon Matsushita has money and power on his side and men to do his bidding.  With Kyôjûrô Sakura (Isamu Nagato) and Einosuke Kikyô (Mikijiro Hira) brought into the conflict, sides will be drawn, and outlaws will be born.

Directed by Ginichi Kishimoto, Three Outlaw Samurai (三匹の侍 or Sanbiki no Samurai) is a Japanese samurai period movie (or chambara).  The movie was a prequel story to the Sanbiki no Samurai series.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #596).

I love this type of movie, but like with a lot of movies, it takes a bit to get your bearing.  The societal breakdown of Feudal Japan is so different than the history that I experienced growing up, that it takes a few moments to adjust…no matter how many of these chambara movies I’ve seen.  Once you get into the film, you can adjust and enjoy.  Three Outlaw Samurai’s adjustment time is a little longer than some of the other movies I’ve seen in the genre.

three outlaw samurai final fight

Hey guys…could you be a little more outlaw-y and not take me at my word that I want to do this fight alone?

Part of the issue is that the film was released during the airing of the Three Outlaw Samurai TV series (which appears to be available nowhere).  People who would have gone to see the film in the theater would likely know the characters within the story, but as a novice viewer it took a while for me to establish who the “three samurai” were.  The story marches a bloody path full of twists and turns, but it definitely is the type of film that benefits from a second viewing once the plot and characters are established.

Tetsuro Tamba is established as the main character of the film rather early on, but it takes too long to bring on Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira into the mix.  All the characters have developed issues within the film, but the introduction of the other main characters too late in the game takes away from the rounded characters.  I do like Miyuki Kuwano as the spoiled daughter of the magistrate that Sakon Shiba tries to teach about why the peasants are revolting against her father.

three outlaw samurai ending

…and they walk off into the sunset (they really should get some horses for dramatic effect)

The movie has that great samurai look that is common to high grade samurai films.  The framing, context, and fights are well done and the movie visually holds up over the years.  Having watched a ton of Akira Kurosawa, it is always interesting to see how other directors approach the medium and to get different perspectives through their vision of the period.

Three Outlaw Samurai isn’t my favorite samurai film, but it is a film I would definitely revisit at some point.  I feel there is some missed in a single viewing of the movie that viewers might have not missed in 1964 when the film was released.  If you have exhausted your samurai movie library, you can check out Three Outlaw Samurai as an alternative chambara movie.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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