Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lost World of Sinbad (1965) with Toshiro Mifune

I've been looking for this film for a long, long time.

Given the presence of so many Akira Kurosawa-connected people, as well as the stars and people behind the Toho-produced kaiju eiga films, The Lost World of Sinbad (1965) was a film I had to see.

Luckily, I found a DVD on the Australian-based label Eastern Eye so here goes with a review.

(The film was released in 1963 in Japan but I'm using the year of the US release via American International Pictures for the release date.)

The film on this Aussie DVD is the original Japanese language track, letterboxed, with clear English subtitles. The DVD is Region 4/PAL and it's finding stuff like this that makes me happy that I got an all-region/PAL-to-NTSC player.

The picture quality is adequate but not great. The extras on the DVD include some stills and a few trailers for other Eastern Eye releases.

The film runs 93-minutes here and the title card is translated as Samurai Pirate -- enough of that Sinbad nonsense.

So, the pirate Luzon (Toshiro Mifune) is due to be burned at the stake and he somehow replaces his body with an effigy and a sarcastic note. The scene then switches to a ship with Luzon at the helm declaring his desire to be a pirate for real since he was accused of being one. And the Masaru Sato score kicks in.

Luzon's ship is smashed in a storm and he wakes up in the water attached to a piece of wood. The Black Pirate (Makoto Sato) steals his gold and Luzon is left to die but instead washes up on a shore where he soon makes his way to a kingdom that looks remarkably like old Japan only done up a bit more exotically.

Conveniently, the locals speak Japanese and Luzon soon hears of the cruel King who gets girls for payment from people who can't pay their taxes. The King's daughter, Princess Yaya (Mie Hama), comes through town in her royal carriage and soon Luzon is smitten.

In the woods, as he makes his way to the castle, he encounters the rebel leader Miwa (Kumi Mizuno) and her gang.

He agrees to help them after he makes his way to the castle alone. There, he learns that the Princess is set to be married to a Chinese prince but the wedding gifts were stolen after the Black Pirate sank the vessel carrying them to the kingdom.

The Premier, who plans to kill the king, meets with the old witch in the castle -- Hideyo (Eisei) Amamoto in drag.

Luzon befriends Princess Yaya's scared maid (the stunning Akiko Wakabayashi from all those kaiju eiga classics, as well as Mie Hama's costar in 1967's You Only Live Twice).

The witch seems to be watching Luzon's actions with a kind of magic mirror -- that only shows silent film in black-and-white (!) -- and so Luzon's attempts to help the Princess may be in jeopardy.

Luckily, he's befriended the lustful wizard Sennin (Ichiro Arashima) whose only power seems to be turning into a fly -- a talent he uses to suddenly land on the breast of a dancing girl in the court of the evil Premier. Ichiro Arashima is known by fanboys like me as the silly pharmaceutical company chief in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).

So while Luzon is buddying up with Kumi Mizuno's rebels, the Premier is plotting with the Black Pirate to raid the Chinese Prince's ship. If the guy doesn't make it to shore, he can't marry Princess Yaya and so she will have to marry the Premier in that case.

But, never fear viewer for Luzon is going to ride a giant kite into the castle at nighttime and then sneak into the palace and rescue the princess.

In an exciting sequence that reminded me quite a bit of the ending of Flash Gordon (1980), Luzon kites into the kingdom and rescues the princess -- not like I'm ruining what is, after all, a fairy tale, right?

It's worth noting this is really the only significant scene involving special effects from Godzilla effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya. The miniatures of the castle are quite nice but not used very much except in this kite-flying sequence.

And, unlike the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad pictures, there are no monsters here in this pirate production -- just that old witch played by Eisei Amamoto.

Kurosawa fans will be disappointed to find that Takashi Shimura is in this for less than 2 minutes -- and in one scene he's sleeping!

More an Errol Flynn-flavoured romp than something like the Harryhausen Sinbad titles, The Lost World of Sinbad was a lot of fun and it represents a more innocent era. Sure, there are adult level jokes involving the lusty exploits of the wizard Sennin -- lots of Benny Hill-worthy shots of a busty village girl -- but the film on the whole is both a kids' film and a fun adventure flick.

I wish there had been more of the Masaru Sato score in this film as he, along with Akira Ifukube, composed some of the most memorable scores in the kaiju eiga canon, as well as a few titles for Kurosawa.

I'm glad I finally got to see this film as the Region 4/PAL DVD is worth seeking out for a reasonable price for any fan of the Kurosawa or kaiju eiga classics.

[Photos: Eastern Eye DVD/Toho Co., Ltd.]