Director: Kihachi Okamoto
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Tatsuya Nakadai, Nato Takenaka, Christopher Mayer
While on a goodwill mission to the United States, Kamijo (Hiroyuki Sanada) loses 3000 pieces of gold to American bank robbers. Befriending young Sam (Scott Bachicha) whose father was killed in the robbery, Kamijo sets off on a mission of revenge to avenge Sam’s father’s death and get the large sum of gold back. Along the way, he is pursued by Tame (Naoto Takenaka) a ninja who believes that Kamijo has ulterior motives. As Kamijo and Sam make their way to the bandits’ new base of operations, they meet and encounter many unique individuals, sharing aspects of their culture and making plans to take on the trigger-happy robbers.
Legendary director Kihachi Okamoto helms this comedy Western, in a unique reversal of genres. Many well-known Westerns are adaptations of classic samurai films and while he infuses Japanese characters into this film, the tone is more towards strictly American-style cowboy fare as opposed to the grittier Italian take. Set up as a comedy of sorts, the journey is as important as the destination. Slapstick comedy abounds and overall, it’s a familiar tone to many other Okamoto films.
Hiroyuki Sanada commands the screen with his physical performance and while there isn’t tons of swordplay, his action elements are solid and he performs what is probably the best sword vs. gun duel strategy shot on film. Where Sanada struggles, unfortunately, is in the dialogue bits as his command of English was not as good when this film was shot, as it is today. He does have decent chemistry with the young orphan and you believe that there is a real bond between the two very different people. Bachicha is decent as Sam, as well as most child actors can manage anyway. His delivery is pretty straightforward, but considering the director and style of cinema, appropriate for this production. He has a bit of action to handle as well and it is actually well done. Bachicha’s Sam is certainly not as unlikable as many child sidekicks are in films like this. Naoto Takenaka does his thing and steals the movie with his take on a ninja spy. He handles a lot of physical gags and his facial expressions are priceless as always. There are quite a few additional cast members throughout and the performances are decent, but you don’t really identify with many of them because of how late they get introduced. The lovely Angelique Midthunder is a good ‘straight man’ for Takenaka’s wackiness and a cameo by Okamoto regular Tatsuya Nakadai round out the performances.
The film is shot very well, with many traditional Okamoto shots transposed to the unique setting. Over the shoulder shots, framing, and angled dynamic camera movements punctuate the action while the typically slower story elements are given a more sedate and measured flow. Music, by Masaru Sato, is very aware of the comedic tone of the film and he employs generally light tones and pieces to keep things light. It is a decidedly very American sounding composition and it wouldn’t feel out of place in a James Gardner or Don Knotts comedy Western.
An odd little cross-cultural mish mash, East Meets West offers a lot of familiar things in other Japanese period films, but this time in English. Performances are adequate but there is a very palpable barrier that exists between more than a few members of the cast that couldn’t be avoided, presumably because of language. For a comedy, it is very dry and I enjoyed it, but there are a few jokes that simply miss the mark. It is unfortunate because there is some real talent present; it is just that it couldn’t translate to the screen. Certainly worth a watch, East Meets West is not a bad film by any stretch, but it does sorely lack the gums to match up to other ‘Asian in the Old West’ films. An interesting sub-genre to be sure, but better explored in other films.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Shanghai Noon, Red Sun, Kill!, and Blood Money