The Pirates (1960)
Directed by Tadashi Sawashima

The Pirates
Kaizoku bahansen
Starring Hashizo Okawa (Kamon), Eiji Okada (Shin-Kurando), Satomi Oka (Suga), Hiroko Sakuramachi (Koshizu), Denjiro Okochi (Tsubo-ya), Eitaro Shindo (Kokubyakusai), Ryunosuke Tsukigata (The Commander), Atsushi Watanabe (Gohei), Haruo Tanaka, Sonosuke Sawamura

Toei Company, 104 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi (TV broadcast quality)

There's something captivating in the genre-bending combination of pirates and samurai, best typified in the Toshiro Mifune matinee fairy tale The Samurai Pirate. This marginally less silly Tadashi Sawashima movie is based on the history of the Bahansen, Japanese pirate ships that sailed to China and Korea before the isolationist era of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Hashizo Okawa stars as Kamon, the adopted son of a merchant who learns that his real father was the late captain of the Bahansen fleet. His father's old friend Kokubyakusai basically abducts Kamon and expects the boy to follow in his father's footsteps. Problem is, Kamon hates pirates and wants no part of their criminal lifestyle, though Kokubyakusai explains that the Bahansen were once honorable traders. Their reputation for piracy has been spread by Uemondayu, the villain who killed his father and now pillages the seas with the "fake" Bahansen. When news comes that Uemondayu has raided Kamon's hometown of Sakai and kidnapped his sister Koshizu, Kamon accepts his mantle with the Bahansen to rescue her.

The plot of The Pirates doesn't stand up to Sawashima's usual standards of cleverness and wit, but it definitely shows a higher budget than the typical Toei production. The movie was shot with actual ships on location, and the cannon battles are way more impressive than just having the actors on a set splashed with water by stagehands. On the other hand, it looks like the makeup department was totally out to lunch. Eitaro Shindo and Ryunosuke Tsukigata are both barely recognizable behind some truly epic mustaches. Then when Kamon and the Bahansen crew encounter some savages on a remote island, you get the racially bizarre vibe of Japanese actors in blackface, combined with the anthropological accuracy of Gilligan's headhunters.

Surprisingly the main appeal of the movie lies in its actresses. Satomi Oka shines as Suga, the kick-ass tomboy who is the one woman accepted among the manly crew of the Bahansen. Also charming is the unidentified actress playing Jahana, the stowaway pursuing her love for Suga's shipmate brother. I'd really like to find out who she is -- possibly a pop star, since she sings a song at one point. Overall The Pirates is dumb fun, but if you're in the mood for swashbuckling chambara on the high seas, The Samurai Pirate is dumber and funner.

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