Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Afro Samurai (2007)

Title: Afro Samurai (2007)

Director: Fuminori Kizaki, Jamie Simone

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman


Most, if not all Samurai films are linked to the theme of revenge somehow. I guess it’s only natural, after all, a Samurai kills for a living, and killing always has a way of coming back at ya, and revenge will always figure into the equation somehow. You choose to live that life; and death, blood, and revenge are all going to tag along. “You live by the sword, you die by the sword” and all that. And the world of Afro Samurai is all about blood, death and revenge. And hip hop music. You see the creator of Afro Samurai (Takashi Okazaki) came up with the character by mixing a few of the things he loved the most: Samurai’s, science fiction and swordplay with Hip Hop music and American Black Culture. This mixture of cultures crossed over to the actual production of the series, which brought together creative talent from both east and west. First up, the animation was done by the guys at Gonzo animation studio; these were the very same guys responsible for the ultra cool anime series Hellsing, which I loved. Then we have Afro Samurai’s actual creator, a Japanese comic book artist known as Takashi Okazaki. The voice talent is mostly made up of American actors. Afro Samurai himself and his imaginary friend known as Ninja Ninja are both voiced by non other than Samuel L. Jackson himself, who by the way is also credited as being one of the producers of the show. Ron Perlman (Yes ladies and gents, Hellboy himself) voices a character known as ‘Justice’, Afro’s #1 enemy. The music comes to us from RZA, who’s an experienced hip hop recording artist and collaborated with Quentin Tarantino on the  soundtrack for both of his Kill Bill (2003) films. So in the end, this is a project that brought together the best of many worlds.

 Story for Afro Samurai is all about headbands. That’s right my friends, headbands. The sword fighters of this world only care about wearing the #1 headband, because it means you’re the best, it means nobody can mess with you; but also because wearing the #1 headband will make you into a God. So everyone and their mother is taking a stab at this headband, problem is that only those with the #2 headband can defy the #1. And the one wearing the #2 right now, is Afro Samurai, a dude you don’t want to be messing with. You see Afro is out to avenge the death of his own father, who was decapitated by the current owner of the #1, a villain who goes by the name of ‘Justice’. Will Afro get to avenge his father’s death?

 What I liked the most about Afro Samurai is that the animation is really top notch, super stylized stuff. Afro’s Afro stands ten feet high while the wind hits it. Characters have swordfights while flying through the air, swords look ten feet long, but it’s all because of the angles. The angles that they choose, the places where they choose to put the camera, many of them are unique to the animation form, things are done on this series that can only be done on an animated feature and I loved that about it. This is the kind of film in which Afro can slice three dudes in half, at the same time with one swoop of his sword! This is a film in which Afro can end up fighting an android version of himself! After a good day of ass kicking, he then calmly takes a drag from his joint, which he is always smoking from. Maybe that’s why the dude fights so well! Point is, anything can happen on Afro Samurai.

 Some have accused this series of being the classic example of  “style over substance”, and I’d have to say that to an extent, I agree, but I’d also have to say that its not entirely true. I think a more accurate description of this film would that it does a fine balancing act between telling an involving revenge tale, and giving us some of that good old fashion hack and slash we always expect in a Samurai film. Yeah the film does concern itself with lots of cool angles, and colors and beautiful looking animation, but behind it all we have a bonafide revenge film every step of the way; and a very dramatic one at that. But it’s a safe bet to say that Afro Samurai concerns itself with being super cool, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s an empty film with only cool visuals to look at. Behind it all is a story about accepting death, about a young boys love for his father, about learning to harness what makes us unique and about learning to face ones fears. If I had to compare it to another Japanese animated film, it would have to be Ninja Scroll because it's also about a hero going up against one enemy after another. What makes Afro story evolve are the flashbacks we get in between, where we get to know who Afro is, and how he came to be in this complicated and dangerous predicament.

 Afro Samurai originally aired on Spike TV way back in 2007 as a five episode mini-series, I never saw it when it first aired, the version I recently watched was Afro Samurai Director’s Cut, which I think is the best way to watch it because it you watch all five episodes back to back, you’re basically watching a feature length film. The second Afro Samurai adventure is called Afro Samurai Resurrection (2009), and that one was released as a feature length film. I’ve yet to see that one, but it’s a problem I plan on resolving soon, so keep an eye out for my review of that one. For now, all I have to say about this mini-series is that hanging out with Afro-Samurai for two and a half hours was the booooommmb!

Rating: 5 out of 5

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