Written by Patrick Galloway
Published by Stone Bridge Press, 2005
Paperback version M.S.R.P. $19.95 U.S.
238 pages, numerous b&w illustrations
With the holiday season fast approaching, I've decided to run some reviews of books that should be of interest to lovers of Asian films. So whether you're looking for a gift for an Asian film aficionado, a suggestion for a gift for someone to give you, or something to just treat yourself to, I hope these reviews will be helpful. First up is Patrick Galloway's Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves:
If you only buy one book about samurai films, this probably should be it. If you have several books about samurai films, this definitely should be one of them. Galloway provides the reader with the kind of information that everyone who loves, or has at least a passing interest in samurai films, should be familiar with.
The first part consists of four chapters of Background:
- The World of the Samurai - provides the historical context of samurai films
- The Samurai Film Genre - includes descriptions of "The Big Five" Japanese movie studios that produced the overwhelming bulk of samurai films
- The Artists - discusses several important directors, screenwriters, and actors
- Seeing the Films - is primarily devoted to explaining the system by which Galloway characterizes the availability of each film reviewed, ranging from "easy" to "tricky" to "tough." Be advised that availability fluctuates over time. Most, perhaps all, of the "easy" titles are still available, though some films do go "out-of-print." In other cases, some films have become "easier" to buy or rent than they were when the book was published.
Part II: The Films, the bulk of the book, uses a chronological approach to discuss the films, starting in the '50s with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) and ending with Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai (2003). These make wonderful "bookends" as Yamada''s film - the first in his "Samurai Trilogy" - is in many ways the anti-thesis of Kurosawa's style in his saumurai films.
All -- and I do mean all -- the "biggies" are here: Kurosawa's films in the genre, as well as picks from such well-known series as Zatoichi, Sleepy Eyes of Death, Lone Wolf and Club, The Razor, and Lady Snowblood. I've seen all of these, many years ago, but it was still fascinating to read Galloway's descriptions of and thoughts about them. There were also several films discussed that I wasn't familiar with and that I'm grateful for learning about.
The final section is a brief appendix. The major portion of it is a very helpful Glossary and Cross-Index. A nice touch here is having phrases, such as baka ("fool") in black typeface in a grey rectangle, while names of individuals and of movies are in white typeface set in black rectangles. The two page bibliography is divided into print and Internet sources.
Stray Dogs... is both interesting and informative. It's essential reading and a must-have book for anyone with a serious interest in the samurai film genre.
ACF Rating; 4 out of 4 stars, highest recommendation.
(The above review in slightly different form appeared as ACF 640, July 27, 2010.)