Ronin Gai Kazuo Kuroki

Ronin Gai was made to commemorate the death of Japanese film pioneer Shozo Makino; if it lacks the groundbreaking zeal of a true leader, it's a loving tribute all the same. The plot revolves around a group of leaderless samurai and prostitutes, with men who drink hard while dreaming of the life that was cruelly snatched from them and women who deal with their drunken rages in between trolling for tricks. This ugly slice of life gets uglier when the local shogun's retainers start carving up prostitutes, at once striking terror into this fallen world while complicating the men's desire to return to a position that would tacitly approve of such brutal behaviour. With a bawdy setting on the fringes of society, the film bears a passing resemblance to the Shohei Imamura of Eijanaika and The Ballad of Narayama, but it sadly lacks his cogency or potency; though it would like you to believe it's challenging something or other, it never really resonates beyond the limits of the story it's telling. But though the film's attempts at class analysis are fumbling at best (and fans of Shintaro "Zatoichi" Katsu will be disappointed at his middling performance), it still does an excellent job of evoking its dissipated milieu. And though its variety of characters, including an alcoholic who bounces between two girlfriends and an apathetic swordsman desperate to buy his way back into the clan, are not without moral stain, they still manage to challenge the hypocritical code of honour that binds people to some even more questionable behaviour. Ronin Gai is far from great, but it will keep you occupied just fine. The only extras are the trailer and a brief introductory essay by critic Mark Pollard. (Home Vision/Morningstar)