Friday, August 14, 2009
REVIEW: Time Slip (a.k.a G.I. Samurai)
戦国自衛隊 (Sengoku jieitai )
Running time: 139 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Kosei Saito's 1979 "Time Slip" (aka "G.I. Samurai") is an odd beast. It mixes a great performance by Sonny Chiba, a strong concept (a modern military outfit travels back in time and meets samurai during the Warring States period) and a terrific lengthy battle sequence with bloated storylines, insignificant secondary characters and terribly misguided music. At 138 minutes long, it gave me ample time to change my opinion of it throughout its runtime (kind of like a sine wave). Fortunately, it provides enough satisfaction via the action and lead character that the investment ends up being worth it.
Chiba plays Yoshiaki Iba, commander of a group of soldiers on maneuvers. Something seems amiss to them one night - Venus seems to be in the wrong spot in the sky and all their watches have stopped at exactly 5:18. Once they reach their destination, a beach where they find several other military personnel, the strangeness begins...Apparently caused by a solar flare of some variety, all the men on the beach and their vehicles and weapons are transported back in time. When they wake up after the event, they are still on the beach, but it seems different - especially given that the huge power plant that was visible from there is now gone. In short order they are attacked, but they are able to repel the archers with their guns. As they are approached by a band of warriors, they begin to realize that they are back during a time of samurai and tribal warfare.
The leader of this second tribe is Kagetora. He introduces himself and is fascinated by the equipment that the soldiers have with them. He's like a kid in a candy store as he races from one vehicle to another and examines the weapons. As he approaches the tank he gleefully says "this iron horse is neighing". Very quickly, Iba is drawn to him and realizes he has met a kindred spirit. Iba is frustrated by an inability to actually be a soldier - his life in the Showa Era is filled with peace and he can only lead his team through drills and exercises. Now he sees an opportunity to be part of history and participate in real battles. He sees in Kagetora a man who lives to fight, to win battles and to conquer and he wants to live that kind of life too. They are both honourable men who know of nothing else to do but fight, so their friendship is a fast one. Their relationship is the crux of the movie and, short of that great half hour extended battle sequence, the best part of it. Kagetora invites Iba to help him conquer the country and to rule it with him - not simply because he has modern weaponry, but because he trusts and respects him.
Unfortunately the film decides to give time to its other characters...One of the soldiers is rebellious and clashes with Iba, another meets a young boy and becomes involved with his siblings, another meets a young woman and falls in love and yet another has a girlfriend waiting for him back home. The idea of bringing in additional characters has merit since you can flesh out numerous possibilities of how humans would respond to such a stressful and fantastical situation. These characters are never given anything to do though and they just exist with the assumption you will be emotionally invested. Those diversions from the main relationship of the film (Iba and Kagetora) just end up weakening the entire premise. For example, the girl friend back home: we see her at the beginning of the film going to an earlier determined meeting spot, we see her later waiting there, we see her again a bit later becoming concerned and then again leaving that spot and wandering off. We never find out anything about her or her soldier boyfriend (he's simply "the one who has a girlfriend back home"). Combine these awkward moments with the worst form of bland, pseudo bluesy, pop ballads as your score (with pretty abysmal lyrics too, but let's just assume that something got lost in the subtitle translation) and you should be able to understand that sine wave of opinion the movie created in me.
In the end though, the story does in fact center on Iba and Kagetora. I wanted more from both of these strong and honourable (yet ambitious and determined) characters, but at least I got enough so that I didn't want to travel back in time to prevent myself from putting the disc in the player in the first place.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.