Samurai Season One: Spy Swordsman (1962)
By: Paul Ryan on February 1, 2011  | 
Siren Visual | Region 4, PAL | 4:3 | Japanese DD 2.0 | 325 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Toru Toyama
Starring: Koichi Ose, Toshiyuki Katsuki, Bin Amatsu, Shunsuke Omori
Screenplay: Masaru Igami
Country: Japan
External Links
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If you're of a certain age, you might recall a little show that was appointment viewing every weekday at 3.30pm on Channel Nine. It was The Samurai, and for a few years in the mid-sixties, it was the Single Greatest Thing in the Universe for many little boys and girls. Made in Japan between 1962 and 1965, the show ran for 128 episodes across ten seasons. A cult favourite for decades, Siren Visual have released selected episodes and arcs on VHS and DVD in the past, but now they've gone the whole hog and put out the series in full.

In this first season (subtitled Spy Swordsman), we are introduced to Akikusa Shintaro (Koichi Ose), a noble samurai. It is 1792, and Shintaro has been ordered by the Shogunate to investigate the affairs of the Matsumane Clan. Angry at the perceived intrusion into the clan's affairs, their leader sends his best (and most fanatical) swordsman, Kiba Jinjuro (Toshiyuki Katsuki) to stop him. In the middle of their ongoing skirmishes are a tribe of indigenous Ainu, who are frequently imperilled by colonial forces and roving bandits. Despite their ongoing enmity, Shintaro and Kiba frequently find themselves drawn together to protect the Ainu, while their ongoing conflict serves as the spine to this first series arc.

Shot fast and cheap, The Samurai is full of heroics, martial arts, sword-swinging, plus the odd gun-fight. Each episode moves at a rapid clip, running under 25 minutes. Koichi Ose makes for a charismatic, noble hero, always pursing his goals with honour and integrity, only whipping out the weaponry when all else fails. Which is a lot. With its wandering hero defending the oppressed in a frontier-like setting, it's easy to see why Aussie kids – raised on TV westerns – took to the show so readily. This opening arc actually aired late in the Australian run of the series as Channel Nine programmers felt it was less representative of the show as a whole. Siren's release returns this storyline to its correct order.

Originally aired in Australia in English dubbed versions, this release presents the show with the both the English dub and original Japanese audio. There is a considerable difference between the translations in each track, with different music and sound effects in both. The narration and dialogue is more culturally specific in the Japanese version, while signposts and markers that go untranslated in the English dub are made clearer via the subtitling. If you grew up with the show, you may prefer the audio you remember as a kid, but at least there are options on hand.
The cover slick states that the transfer here comes from "all new master material", and based on the evidence here, the original material wasn't much chop to begin with. Nearly every edit contains visible splice marks at the top of the frame, possibly a result of the show's quickie production schedule. Shot on 16mm, the image is soft and prone to occasional ghosting. The subtitles for the Japanese language version are in a white font and easy to read throughout.
Both the English and Japanese soundtracks are in 2.0 mono. The English track is audibly louder by comparison, though dialogue, music and sound effects come through clearly enough in both.
Extra Features
Just a pair of trailers for the 1954 animated version of Animal Farm and Lionel Rose documentary, Lionel. Any other extras are as well-hidden as the stealthiest of ninjas.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Rip-snorting fun for young and old alike, this first arc from The Samurai is cheap, cheerful and surprisingly engrossing. If you grew up with the show, this will be your first opportunity to see the show in the original production order and in the original language. Newcomers will likely get a kick (or three) out of it well.

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