Saturday, August 08, 2009

Book Review: Warring Clans, Flashing Blades

Warring Clans, Flashing Blades: A Samurai Film Companion
Warring Clans, Flashing Blades

A number of years ago, while killing time in an airport bookstore, I stumbled across Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook. Or should I say the book sought me out and invited me to go on a fun-filled journey through the realm of samurai cinema. It wasn’t hard to convince me to go along for the ride. After all, I am a huge fan of this genre and after less than a minute of thumbing through the book, I was hooked and let myself be guided through some of the most entertaining Japanese films ever made. This book was truly a fun read, and with each new review that I devoured, I realized that I had found the perfect person to watch samurai films with in the form of the author, Patrick Galloway. I don’t mean that I’ve actually watched a film together with Pat, but I immediately liked what Pat had to say and loved his writing style. It wasn’t stuffy, condescending or academically dull. Pat writes about samurai period piece films in a natural way, just like you would talk to a good friend about a movie. And when deciding on whether or not to see a particular film, we often tend to rely on the advice and opinions of friends, yes? Well, that’s exactly what Pat Galloway’s book became—a surrogate friend that helped open the doors to new aspects of Japanese cinema that I was unaware of as well as introduced me to some very good films that I probably never would have known about if it wasn’t for this book. SD&LW quickly became my samurai film “buddy” and no doubt, for many others, too.

So as I consider SD&LW a “buddy” book, I wasn’t very surprised to see that Pat Galloway’s samurai film follow up, Warring Clans, Flashing Blades is appropriately subtitled as a “Samurai Film Companion”. This is exactly what the author Pat Galloway is—a companion who has once again returned in book form to take his readers through another fun-filled tour of chambara action, suspense and compelling jidai-geki (period piece) drama and intrigue. The beautiful thing about Pat’s two books covering samurai cinema is how easily he guides readers along the path of true chambara enlightenment. Warring Clans, Flashing Blades, like its predecessor, emphasizes the element of fun as well as the entertainment value of these films while managing to teach something about the history, culture, actors and filmmakers in a way that that is witty, to the point, and tastefully done. This is a book aimed at everyone, written by a person who clearly has a love for the genre and wants to share his enthusiasm with his readers. And Pat’s enthusiasm really is contagious. and a couple of other vendors scored some big DVD orders off of me after the release of SD&LW and I’ll willingly admit that I am now over US$150 poorer after ordering more samurai DVDs from since receiving Warring Clans, Flashing Blades. I’m blaming it on Pat Galloway!

And he really does deserve the blame. It’s his fault for writing about 40 or so captivating full-length reviews and another 20 capsule reviews of very interesting movies in a way that made me want to add some of these films to my already hefty collection of jidai-geki. And truthfully (ok, the truth finally comes out), I don’t feel so bad about spending the money on the movies because I know they will be good choices, providing hours of entertainment. Pat’s opinions and mine hardly ever diverge on what we like or dislike when it comes to samurai cinema, so I trust his reviews implicitly.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the contents of this book. Sure, I can scrutinize historical commentary and how ‘reel’ history is portrayed in many of the films Pat reviews, but what is the point? There really isn’t one except for very important thing to keep in mind. This book is meant to be fun and is the result of Pat’s unabashed enthusiasm for the samurai film genre. Fun and historical realism often don’t mesh, particularly in samurai films, just as they don’t in American Westerns. The emphasis of these films is on entertainment and Warring Clans, Flashing Bladesdoes a mighty fine job of highlighting their entertainment value. Pat simply manages to always keep it in that perspective, which is something that would be hard for me, as I tend to occasionally take real Japanese history a little too seriously and can get very nitpicky when reading history books or when watching a film that is said to be historically accurate. Again, Pat keeps it all fun and fresh, and this, in my opinion, is what makes his books on samurai films stand out from the rest.
So, if you are looking for the perfect companion to guide you through the world of samurai cinema, then you want Pat Galloway. But as Pat can’t be with you in front of your TV and DVD player, go and get the next best thing—his newest book, Warring Clans, Flashing Blades. You won’t be disappointed.


  1. As someone who has also dropped several hundred bucks buying films based on this book, I wholeheartedly agree with this review. Pat's strength is that while he has the knowledge and expertise of an 'arty' critic, he also has the soul of a true fan.

  2. I have been renting many samurai movies from the Little Tokyo branch library here in downtown Los Angeles. They don't have this book but they do have the Stray Dogs book so I can look that one up for good movies. Any you recommend?

  3. For recommendations, I pretty much recommend ALL OF 'EM. :)

  4. I just watched Swords of Vengeance: Fall of Ako Castle starring Sonny Chiba about the 47 Ronin. It was pretty entertaining. Tonight I am watching Samurai Banners. Another good Samurai Movie Weekend for me.