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Samurai: Cooler Than You

How cool are samurai? Way cooler than you'll ever be, chump. And thanks to the Criterion Collection, now you can revel in their coolness like never before. Criterion's Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics set just hit, and its four '60s samurai flicks come with restored digital transfers, improved subtitles, and even some hoity-toity essays and director interviews.

Samurai Rebellion (1967)­­­­—The awesome Toshirô Mifune (Yojimbo) stars in Masaki Kobayashi's story of a samurai family torn apart by their dipshit clan lord. For most of the film, Mifune slowly simmers with suppressed anger, but he goes all sorts of apeshit in the end—in other words, his sword gets pretty bloody. And in even more other words, this is one of those rare "family dramas" that's actually interesting.

Sword of the Beast (1965)—Hideo Gosha's film about a disgraced samurai who hides out in the mountains—but even there, he can't escape society's corrupt maneuverings. The striking Mikijiro Hira stars, but he can't steal the film away from Toshitada Tsuchiya's eloquent cinematography, which captures the singular beauty of the Japanese forests.

Samurai Spy (1965)—Okay, so I mentioned that you can buy all of these either separately or in a box set, right? They're $30 each or $100 for the set, which I mention here because Samurai Spy is the only one you'd want to leave out. Spy takes its tiresome double-crosses and forced plot machinations so seriously that it's a chore to get through. Luckily, it's redeemed by...

Kill! (1968)—The most entertaining of the films, Kill! is a funny, smart, and incisive send-up of/tribute to the samurai genre. Part spaghetti western, part comedy, and part samurai flick, Kill! follows a couple of clichéd characters—a farmer turned wannabe samurai, a disgraced former samurai, a group of rebellious, confused samurai (who, not coincidentally, are seven in number, natch)—and ends up being one of the most engaging, humorous, and personable films of not only its genre, but also of the '60s.

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