Cult director Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) returns with this disappointing samurai movie.
Monoshukin (Sosuke Ikematsu, of The Last Samurai fame) is a young samurai boarding with rice farmers in exchange for protection. He has formed friendships with Ichisuke (Ryusei Maeda), training him with wooden swords, and Ichisuke’s sister Yu (Yu Aoi), with whom there is a developing romance. An older warrior, Sawamura (actor-director Shin’ya Tsukamoto) is on his way to fight for the Shogun when he stops in the farming village to recruit Monoshukin and Ichisuke. When a marauding gang starts appearing nearby and finally beats up Ichisuke things do not go according to plan. The central issue is that Monoshukin, although a highly skilled swordsman, has never killed and finds himself unable to do so when facing down the murderous thugs.
Killing feels like two movies. The first carries the influence of Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) or Masaki Kobayashi (Harakiri). The cinematography is steady, deliberate and pregnant. The swordplay is quick and full of tension. Tsukamoto is playful with the audience’s expectations of the genre and there are moments of humour that give the cast a chance to act. The other film that takes place among this is chaotic. It share similarities with Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s earlier genre-films. The camerawork changes so starkly to poorly lit, shaky-cam scenes that the narrative flow is lost. The turning point for this abrupt shift is a gratuitous rape scene that serves to punish the hero. Tsukamoto does nothing with the ideas he builds up through the film. There is no pay-off for investing in the hero.
In the final act the young samurai is slowly pursued through a forest by his master, with his lover trailing behind. As they each wander through the vibrant green foliage and rain we are offered a glimmer of what this movie could have been if it had stuck to one path and followed it. But like its hero, Killing is conflicted and confused.