Three Outlaw Samurai

Three Outlaw Samurai
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One...two...three Samurai filling the giant screen with flashing swordplay
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6.9/10 by 20 users
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Shiba, a wandering ronin, encounters a band of peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of their dictatorial magistrate, in hopes of coercing from him a reduction in taxes. Shiba takes up their fight, joined by two renegades from the magistrate's guard, Sakura and Kikyo. The three outlaws find themselves in a battle to the death.

Title:Three Outlaw Samurai
Original Title:Sanbiki no samurai
Release Date:May 13, 1964
Genres:Action, Drama
Production Co.:Samurai Productions
Production Countries:Japan
Director:Hideo Gosha
Writers:, ,
Casts:, , , , , , , , , ,
Plot Keywords:samurai, katana, peasant, murder, treachery, ronin, dishonor, bribery, change of heart, magistrate, shame
Alternative Titles:
  • Sanbiki no samurai - [JP]
  • 三匹の侍 - [JP]

Three Outlaw Samurai Reviews

  • Excellent proto-"spaghetti western" Samurai movie!
    by shinobirastafari on 16 July 2001

    25 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

    This one is Gosha's first directorial attempt, and what a debut! Though some of the performances are occasionally a bit overwrought, there are also many instances where Gosha reveals his sense of the camera.

    Of course, there are Gosha's typical studied camera angles and compositions (you see some interesting "moving camera" work, which significantly predates the attempts of "pioneering" US directors). However, "Sanbiki no samurai" also showcases Gosha's ability to tell a story through facial expressions, rather than simply relying upon dialogue.

    This is all film-school wankery. The bottom line is that "Sanbiki" is a gripping chambara flick, with a solid morality tale disguised as a cynical amorality tale. (Note that a common theme through many Japanese "chambara" is that of cynical ex-samurai who ultimately decides to risk life and limb for some hopeless but noble "little guy" cause.)

    This theme was repeatedly, um, emulated by the likes of Sergio Leone with his spaghetti westerns. However, my point is that such tales are just plain entertaining. The three actors playing the samurai also turn in great performances.

    Viewers new to Hideo Gosha may wish to start with "Goyokin" or "Hitokiri" (a/k/a "Tenchu"), but if you've seen those two already (or if they're already checked out), then this is still a definite movie to catch!

  • Entertaining samurai action
    by Chung Mo on 18 March 2006

    12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

    Excellent black and white cinematography, solid acting, well done action and a reasonably good story make this a satisfying film. The story of wandering samurai coming to the aid of impoverished farmers is not new and the characters are stock but this isn't a real problem if you are looking for something to sit back and enjoy easily. The direction is very assured and it's remarkable that this is a first directorial effort. The actors are appealing and the film never gets bogged down in long exposition or beauty shots. The comparison to a spaghetti western is apt.

    The film seems like it was intended to start a series based on the three characters. Too bad that didn't happen.

  • This is where it all started for one of Japan's greats.
    by chaos-rampant on 8 June 2008

    9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

    Hideo Gosha's first in a series of great movies leading up to his double triumph of Hitokiri and Goyokin in 1969, is a simple but engaging chambara with a sociopolitical angle that has more in common with Kurosawa's work than the stylistic flourishes and visual grammar the director developed later in his career.

    Very similar to Seven Samurai in terms of style and themes, this is another take on the familiar story of cynical samurais helping out poor peasants in their fight against the oppression of the rich and powerful. Three lowly peasants kidnap a daimyo's daughter and demand a tax reform that will ease the economic burden for all the peasants in the nearby villages. It's all well plotted and interesting for the duration with great performances all around and near superb swordplay action. Gosha's two Samurai Wolf films as well as Sword of the Beast would make ideal companion pieces as an entry point to the director's output. Fans of Kurosawa's jidaigeki work are likely to appreciate it just as well.

  • Justice...
    by planktonrules on 6 June 2010

    6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

    In some ways, this film might be a bit anachronistic. I really am not sure it such an event might have happened--particularly with the code of Bushido putting such a premium to authority. But you sure would HOPE that it might have happened! The film begins with a small group of peasants holding the magistrate's daughter hostage. After all, his taxes are literally starving the peasants and he would seem to care nothing about their plight. So, in their minds, doing something as insanely foolish as the kidnapping seemed like only hope. It just happens that three ronin (unemployed samurai) arrive in town about that time. One agrees to work for the evil magistrate, one assists the kidnappers and one stands least at the onset. Eventually, though, because of repeated lies and infamy by the magistrate, the three samurai eventually are drawn together as there is something even higher and more important that obedience--doing what is right.

    There is a lot more to the story than this and it comes off like a western that has been relocated to feudal Japan. However, it is so much better than just that--with exceptional acting, action and plot. In many ways, it plays like a typical Zatoichi film merged with the Kurasawa film "The Seven Samurai". Exciting, entertaining and tough--this is one of the better sword and samurai films I've seen--and I have seen hundreds (a lot for an American).

    Simple, exciting and very effective.

  • Very good samurai picture, and a great-looking Blu Ray from Criterion
    by zetes on 11 June 2012

    5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

    Hideo Gosha got his start on television. His biggest hit was Three Outlaw Samurai, and in 1964 he got the chance to direct a prequel to that series with this, his first theatrical film. Tetsuro Tanba plays a wandering samurai who comes upon a hostage situation involving three peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of the local magistrate. The peasants of the district are being treated very poorly and are starving. Tanba sees that these guys aren't bad (the girl, Miyuki Kuwano, is unharmed) and decides to help them stand up to the magistrate. Among the men the magistrate hires to dispatch of the samurai and the peasants are Isamu Nagato and Mikijiro Hira, who will both switch sides and join up with Tanba eventually. Gosha's direction is impressive and the black and white cinematography is gorgeous. Occasionally the story is confusing and could be communicated a bit better, but for the most part it's not difficult to follow. The ending in particular is fantastic. I'd love to see some of the original series, but unfortunately it's lost.

  • A well-written samurai masterpiece
    by chrismsawin on 14 February 2012

    5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

    Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.

    Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.

    Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.

    The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment." While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.

  • Four Samurai stayed home
    by lastliberal on 15 November 2008

    9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

    Unlike the more familiar Seven Samurai, remade as The Magnificent Seven, this film only features three. Really, it is only one for most of the movie, then another joins in, and finally the third.

    The story is familiar. The Samurai feel sorry for the poor peasants and one even gives up his luxurious life in the Magistrate's service to fight the evil tax collector that is bleeding the peasants dry.

    It's the film debut for Hideo Gosha, and he does a great job of mixing samurai fighting and humor and concern for the poor into an enjoyable film that was beautifully shot.

    I am certainly going to look for more of his work.

  • Fear Consumes The Many
    by ArchAngel Michael on 19 February 2017

    2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

    Spoilers Ahead:

    Why did I give it a nine? I reserve nines for movies that defy all of your expectations. I hand nines and tens out very rarely. I dare anyone to tell me the story beforehand. It will surprise you all throughout the whole movie. First, notice how unidealized the samurai are here? Unlike Zwick's The Last Samurai, they are: dirty, hair matted, sweaty and, above all things, consumed with hunger. The evil that many do to the peasants is followed by an apology; they are half starved, at the end of their wits finding work to eat. Shiba finds Aya's hairpin and wanders into the peasants' holding of the lord's daughter hostage to force him to listen to their petition. Shiba helps them once, to hold off the first wave, but when the peasants give him the only food they have, millet porridge, this is where he admires them. Before this, he never grasped their desperation, he mocked them and laughed, retreating to the loft to 'watch the show.' As he eats their porridge, seeing them shaking with hunger, this is where they bind him to their cause. This is the joy of the movie, the writing is so well done that you never expect what happens next. How about when Sakura, a starving samurai, reluctantly agrees to lead another assault on the barn? He kills Oine's husband, without knowing who he is, later she falls in love with him. He fights the whole movie to tell her that he killed her husband.

    The lord is a real piece of crap, bringing one of the peasants' daughters to be abused and humiliated in front of him to pressure their surrender. When Shiba agrees to take their 100 lashes, buying their freedom, the lord agrees but betrays both Shiba and the peasants. The lord's chief swordsman, Kikyo, while mocking Shiba the entire movie, gets his stomach full of all the double dealing of this mendacious Machiavellian. He knows what is in store for himself when the lord is through with him. The movie builds to an excellent finale: a mass fight with the three samurai taking on a huge group. Finally, the Daimyo's chief retainer arrives, directing the final assault, and challenges Shiba to a duel. All during this duel, there is an excellent use of wind and dust clouds, that adds a surreal quality to the showdown. The movie has action and fights throughout the entire length of the movie, not just at the very end. The lord has a series of groups trying to wrest that petition away from the peasants before the Daimyo's procession through the village. He knows that if the Daimyo finds out how he lost control of his domain it would be sepukku time.

    My header refers to my favorite scene, that you will never find in another samurai movie. SPOILER: After the original peasants are slaughtered by a group of starving, mercenary samurai, Shiba takes the petition to the remaining peasants as the procession passes by. They all cower in fear before him, the three dead peasants were the brave exceptions, the rest are too scared of the Daimyo to dare take up the petition. Shiba leaves them in disgust and contempt, returning back to the other two samurai. The brave are the exception here, just like in real life. When Shiba is about to let the loathsome lord get what he asked for, Aya shields her evil father with her body. This is why I chose that header: among all the social classes, in this exceptional movie, fear is what keeps them in line. Aya's bravery is just as exceptional as the three desperate peasants who were slaughtered when they, and Shiba, were betrayed by the faithless lord. The dialog is well done with plenty of irony and misanthropy, especially coming from the lord's retainer Kikyo. I love when Shiba asks, with moral outrage, how he can fight for the lord,"Well, I'm sponging off of him, after all?" This movie is such a change from the hyper-manly samurai movies; these are ordinary men who do brave things, while trying not to starve to death. I gave it a nine because you will never see another samurai movie remotely this realistic and devoid of bravado. An Excellent Movie. Q.E.D.

  • A relentlessly thrilling Samurai movie
    by PimpinAinttEasy on 6 September 2015

    1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

    Three Outlaw Samurai is a relentlessly thrilling Samurai movie full of twists and betrayals.

    After a title sequence with a bombastic score, the action begins almost immediately in this film. A wandering Samurai stumbles upon a hostage situation - a few pathetic peasants (not too different from the ones in Seven Samurai) are holding the daughter of an aristocrat hostage in the hope that he would waive taxes. After observing the bumbling peasants and their failed negotiations with the aristocracy for a while, the cynical Samurai decides to join the fight on the peasants side.

    While watching this film, it struck me that the Samurai attitude towards life is not too different from the cowboys in spaghetti westerns or protagonists in Noir thrillers. They are very cynical and are always watching how the situation unravels. But they often put their neck on the line in the end.

    The treatment and portrayal of women in this film is quite hilarious and politically incorrect.

    I liked the way the director balanced the different aspects of the film - the film is a mix of cynical tongue in cheek humor and relentless action while also foregrounding themes like samurai honor and the plight of peasants.

    The plot, like a Noir film is quite complicated.


  • Entertaining Samurai Pic
    by lokko53 on 3 August 2015

    1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

    A wandering ronin stumbles upon a mill building after finding a woman's hair pin. Inside three peasants have kidnapped the magistrate's daughter in order to seek justice on behalf of all the peasants. The cynical samurai schools the peasants on how to handle a kidnapping. The humorous but portentous beginning sets up the characters and action of the film.

    It is an entertaining chambara film, but there is lack of depth in terms of character study that set apart the best films. Nevertheless, it is a quality, skilled debut film by Hideo Gosha.

    During some of the sequences, the camera makes a well timed dutch tilt to present the action in the film. The action and suspense in the film is well choreographed as the upper hand changes during the first act. The action is restrained and purposeful which makes the fights much more compelling.


    In this film we see the loyalty of two of the samurai to the peasants as a virtue despite all the hesitations on their part. Are they only defending the peasants because there are no better options for independent samurai? The third samurai works for the ruthless magistrate. He switches allegiances out of necessity when the magistrate places a price on his head.

    Part of the film looks at class warfare as the magistrate hoards all the goods and the peasants starve. The film does not fall into romantic view of the struggle which is what sets it apart from other films. In the end, the peasants are too afraid to take action and risk their lives in the name of justice. They are unwilling to present their demands to the Lord of the magistrate when he visits. When people cannot take their own fate into their own hands, there is not much that can be done for them. The daughter of the magistrate develops empathy for the plight of the peasants, but also remains deeply loyal to her father in their family bond. The magistrate is the only two dimensional character. He is ruthless and ready to betray anyone in his way. In some regards, the number of betrayals by the magistrate in the film detract from the possibilities of greater character development as his own character.

    I loved the dust blown by in several sequences that make the locales of combat come across as much more desolate and rugged.

    Nevertheless, this is a great film for lovers of samurai films who wish to delve deeper than the typical popular films.

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