The three outlaws are Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba), a ronin, and two samurai, Sakura (Isamu Nagato) and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira). Together, they seek out the peasants who kidnapped an influential magistrate’s daughter (Miyuki Kuwano) as a negotiation tool.
In Hideo Gosha’s debut, Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), no one is faithful or to be trusted. It’s not long into the three samurais’ mission that one slays a peasant and then, without much apparent thought, turns sympathetic for the hostile conditions they live in. That is the extent of character development, and their conflicts seem to exist solely to lengthen the film’s running time, which still runs a short 93 minutes.
Three Outlaw Samurai serves as an offshoot of the TV series that started airing one year prior to the film’s release. Gosha cast the three leads from the series for his debut, yet, curiously, none of the men seem to have a grasp on their characters or their motivations.
But much of the audience will have come for the swordplay. Gosha is a master in the art, showing off these skills in bursts and the last ten minutes of Three Outlaw Samurai. Sword fighting would be crucial in so many of other works, including his sophomore feature, Sword of the Beast (1965), the jidaigeki entry Goyokin (1969) and the Tokugawa shogun epic Hitokiri (also 1969) which remain his most popular and praised. This is where it all started.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 12-page booklet with an essay titled “The Disloyal Bunch” by film critic Bilge Ebiri.