Afro Samuri

Year 2007

Samuel L. Jackson   as  Afro Samuri  
Samuel L. Jackson as Ninja-Ninja
Ron Perlman as Justice
Director - Fuminori Kizaki
Screenwriters - Tomohiro Yamashita  
  - Yasuyuki Muto
  - Takashi Okazaki

He looks black. He's got long flowing hair. He wields a katana. He-e-e-e-e's Afro Samuri! Not convinced? There's hip-hop playing. Did that do it for you? No? Then just take my word for it. The DVD cover says so! He's Afro Samuri whether you agree or not.

This was an episodic Japanese anime presentation for television.

I thought a samuri served a master, otherwise he was ronin. And I mean a physical, estate owning person not some cornball esorteric rationalization like "Vengence is his master." So, the title would have been better as "Afro Ronin".

But then there's that whole "Afro" thing. Is it short for African? I thought terms like Afro-American went out with the seventies. If so, then it must refer to his hair. He's got not just long, but long and flowing locks like Rapunzel. It's not halo hair like Link from the Mod Squad but rather more along the lines of, as Peter Wolfe (ex of the J. Geils Bands) says, "Rapuda Dapuda". So, let's rename this movie/series "Rapuda Dapuda Ronin!"

Should I start with what's wrong with or what's right with this one? Let's start off on "the good foot" for a nice James Brown intro.

For starters, a black protagonist in a Japanese anime series is unique. It's intriguing. Is it interesting? Well, sort of. It's not like the main character is anything but another Japanese character with different features and skin tone. But, then there's his shadow who's definitely U.S.A. street. And the music, as I mentioned earlier, is hip-hop.

The artwork is very well done. I mean very well done. Every character has their own rhythm in the way they walk, talk, fight, stand, etc. It's reminiscent of Peter Cheung's "Aeon Flux" series, only darker. Much darker.

There's a lot of creativity to the adversaries who are Southern Baptist evangelical Japanese monks with a prurient streak. They are very steam-punkish, sort of like "Seven Samuri" meets "Heavy Metal". For twists, the higher driving compulsion of bushido or honor comes into play.

Unfortunately, every positive statement above comes with a big but... (as opposed to a big butt).

Which brings us to the bad.

The series starts with a child watching his father, wearing a headband with "Number 1" on it, dying at the hands of Number 2 who challenged him for the right to wear the coveted Number 1 headband. End of story, right?

Boy that was quick. The rules were followed, the new Number 1 (a guy named Justice) has no challengers, he owns all of the headbands, game over. What are they going to do for the rest of the time? Flashback, maybe?

Nope. The child needs to avenge his father's death. Why? I dunno. I mean, if you're going to go around wearing Number 1, the rules say that Number 2 has the right to kill you. Either take off the headband or expect to be killed during a formal and by-the-rules challenge at some point. Why must these rules be followed? I dunno.

But the child feels slighted anyhow and must follow the path of bushido, which apparently means, "I vomit on fair play. I'm gonna kill something any way I want." So "bushido" is a term that is depicted as having no meaning other than as some sort of diversion. If you shout out, "My administration will be open!" or "Look! It's Halley's comet!" or "Bushido!" you'll buy yourself some time but the words are meaningless.

So, after swearing revenge against the man who defended himself against his father's homical rage (Hey, it was his father, dagnabbit!), the boy leaves the new Numero Uno Justice alone so that Justice can enjoy his victory in peace.

And what a victory! Now, Justice can become a god! He has headband Number 2 and headband Number 1, so now he can go to the bathroom any, and I mean ANY, time he wants! Or maybe not. Because, for some reason that is never explained, headband Number 2 is no longer his. Maybe the wind or a bird took it. Maybe Justice was distracted by a traveling soap salesman with the classic, "Hey, bud, your shoelace is untied." Oh, those wily soap salesmen! Or maybe somebody shouted, "Bushido!"

My point? To re-iterate, the movie should have ended right there. That's it. Finito! Justice gets what he wants and there's no need to continue. But it doesn't and this confused me for a while.

Is the story that follows a flashback relating to the man who died? Is the man who died Rapuda Dapuda? I mean, since Justice won and has the coveted headbands, aren't Justice and Rapuda Dapuda one and the same? Who else could it be?

Eventually, it comes out that this is a story of a kid swearing vengeance. So it's the young boy, and not Justice, who is none other than Rapuda Dapuda.

Seriously. This had me going for a while. Then I realized that common sense and logic weren't going to be part of the story arc and I got into the contrived concept that headband Number 2 was back in circulation.

Things got a little better then. Rapuda Dapuda is a pretty impressive fighter. He's so good with a sword that he can cut bullets in half while they're speeding towards his heart and not even get a scratch in the process.

The mixture of technolgies, sword versus exploding projectiles, is nice. I haven't seen anything approaching this subject matter since Yojimbo. In fact, in the commentary, references are made to the influence of this great Kirosawa-Mifune film.

Three other things really bother me about "Rapuda Dapuda Ronin". In order, the first is Rapuda Dapuda's sidekick Ninja-Ninja (Samuel L. Jackson). The portrayal of the ever present companion by Samuel L. Jackson makes me really dislike Samuel L. Jackson. Ninja-Ninja is annoying. Not even droning on and on like a wasp stuck in a screen door bothersome, but howling and screeching like an amphetamine junkie with some lame inner city banter that is definitely out of place in Japan annoying. His broken record of things to say includes Rapuda Dapuda can't win, he's outnumbered, he should run, and he's going to die. Enough already!

Three things good about this character? One, the first time "mother" was referred to it caught me by surprise and I had to grin. Two, Ninja-Ninja's commentary about an RPG in one enemy's backpack is entertaining because it is not too repetitive. Three, he's drawn as Rapuda Dapuda's negative. For example he has white hair instead of black.

The character is out of place, all over the place, and never shuts up. And, if you've seen Fight Club or A Beautiful Mind or even Sixth Sense then you know who Ninja-Ninja is. In fact (SPOILER comparison!), when Ninja-Ninja is finally dispatched, I wondered if it wasn't in the same manner that the Narrator dispatched Tyler Durden.

The second additional thing that bothered me had to do with Rapuda Dapuda's recovery after being nearly killed by an RPG round. In one scene, he's going to be obliterated by the grenade. Dead meat. No chance of recovery. Then, he's being nursed back to health by the same people who tried to kill him so that he can be killed for real this time.

Why do they do this? To steal his fighting skills from his dreams, of course! Huh? Why not just steal the stinking Number 2 headband and plunge a knife in his heart! Dozens of enemy troops died attempting to do just that. So, now that he's down and out, they let him get strong? No manacles or restraints? Just let him get better so that he can kill them all later?

Then there's the whole everybody has to die because of Rapuda Dapuda's singleness of purpose. Hey, Rapuda! Your father died in a fair fight! He chose to fight! It came with the territory! Now, everybody else has to die?

In the end, Rapuda Dapuda is worse than Justice. Rapuda Dapuda is rationalizing the fact that he is a self-serving homicidal maniac by aligning himself with the concept of bushido. Justice, on the other hand, became twisted in the pursuit of power as a means to help others. Sort of like the road to hell being paved with good intentions kind of thing.

It's anime. It's over the top with gallons of blood being sprayed with every paper cut. It's intense. It's clever. It makes less sense than a Salvador Dali painting. It's not for most women. With Samuel L. Jackson, there's way too much blasphemy. The twist isn't. If you haven't seen them, watch the original Heavy Metal or the animated Aeon Flux series instead. (Although if you've already seen those and liked them, then this one is worth watching. That this is a labor of love by the writer is obvious and you have to respect that.)

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