Yamato Chanbara

The acrobatics involved are often impressive, but the real stars of the show are the Yamato drummers whose taiko rhythms are awe-inspiring

Review by Junta Sekimori | 10 Aug 2007

The bellowing boom of taiko drums excites the air. A band of warriors flock to the scene, weapons at the ready. An old, contemplative man - no doubt a samurai master - fondles a sheathed katana sword - no doubt legendary. The rhythm of the drums quickens and the tension in the air thickens as the bandits close in on our estimable lord. They explode into action. As suspected he is masterful, his sword is legendary, and dutifully he scatters his assailants within moments as effortlessly as paper wraps stone. Fountains of blood decorate the bamboo as heads fly. At least, this is what the finished film would look like.

Chambara is less a showcase of martial prowess as it is a demonstration of how the above film would be made. Through a series of sketches enamelled around a nugatory plot, the swordsmen take us through their repertoire of choreographed stunts, complete with tin swords, harness ropes and a techno soundtrack.

If you want to see an authentic martial art spectacle this is not the right place to look. Neither the performers, nor their weapons, ever make physical contact. Recorded sounds provide the familiar pows and wows of oriental combat, defining Chambara as more a homage to pop culture than to the disciplinarian tradition of Japanese martial arts. Though the acrobatics involved are often impressive, the real stars of the show are the Yamato drummers whose taiko rhythms are awe-inspiring.

The constantly energetic troupe provides for an engaging show, but ultimately it leaves you in want of the real thing.