Patrick Galloway is no film scholar, and "Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook" is no didactic, insightful critique of a unique and subtle genre. Instead, he is an unabashed fan who has written a gushing fan book full of excitement and energy, as befits the nature of the subject. This is not to put any doubt on his knowledge. Super-fan that he is, one would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable expert on the Samurai genre. From the most ludicrous splatterfest to the most powerful and moving drama, Galloway treats each film with respect and notes the quality of its merits on its own terms.
Taking this films decade by decade, Galloway highlights the best that each period has to offer. He kicks things off right with "Roshomon" and "Seven Samurai" in the 1950's, moves through the Golden Age of the 60's with such films as "Yojimbo," "The Tale of Zatoichi," "Hara Kiri" and "Samurai Rebellion," into the 70's with "Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx" and the "Kill Bill" inspiration "Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld," the 80's and beyond with "Kagemusha," "Roningai" Kitano Takeshi's "Zatoichi" and the magnificent "Twilight Samurai." He plucks the absolute best from each era, and leaves you hungry to watch every magnificent offering.
Each review is packed with information on story, actors and historical setting. Ever a fan instead of a scholar, Galloway refuses to give away endings or crucial plot points, so that the films can still be fully enjoyed by eager viewers. The availability of each film is also rated, and Galloway specifically tries to review accessible films, rather than long out-of-print obscurities.
Along with his great reviews, he has side galleries such as the "Character Actor Hall of Fame," with bios of all those guys you see hanging around the various Samurai flicks, but never quite put a name too, and tidbits from "Takuan the Know-It-All Priest," which offers insight into Japanese Samurai culture, dress and relationships. He also includes four prefacing essays, "The World of the Samurai," "The Samurai Film Genre," "The Artists," and "Seeing the Films" which help set the stage for the film reviews to follow.
While always a fan of Samurai flicks, "Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves" has set me on the path to becoming a full-fledged fanatic. It has become my checklist to take shopping for DVDs or to the local rental shop, and so far it has never let me down. The more I see, the more I want to see, and I am constantly referencing back to this book, appreciating it even more as I see the films.