Samurai Wolf introduces us to Furious Wolf (Natsuyagi), a poor swordsman. He gets employed by the blind owner of a rural trading station to protect a cargo of money that is coming through the territory she oversees. There are several conspiracies and double crossings afoot, of course, but the twists and turns in the plot are well developed and make the film more interesting as it goes along. When the big showdown comes halfway through the film you think ‘hey, what is going to happen now?’. Don’t worry, stuff does happen.
The sequel sees Furious Wolf tagging along behind prisoners that are being transported for execution. It turns out one of the prisoners knows about a secret goldmine and the owner wants to keep him quiet.
The interview extra with Tony Rayns makes the case that these were B movies made to launch the career of Isao Natsuyagi. All the more credit is due to Gosha then, for, especially in the first film, doing pretty much what he, Gosha, wanted: making a low-budget samurai film that looks and sounds like an Italian western of the period.
Natsuyagi’s character, Furious Wolf, looks like a ratty Sanjuro, the dirty, shambolic samurai character made famous by Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo, the film that was remade as A Fistful of Dollars. Wolf is way too kind to people, which slightly clouds the issue of influence. The stories, however, are very Sergio Leone and there are loads of stylistic touches that remind one of Italian westerns: shots which mix foreground close ups with background action; apparently gratuitous arty shots from above (which Rayns points out give a disorienting but dynamic sense of the movement of characters in space); Morricone-like harmonica and odd, minimalist electro-acoustic percussion on the soundtrack.