Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook (Anglais) Broché – 30 juin 2005
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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.
The book is written more as an introduction to the genre, so it is more for the average person than for someone who has seen most of the movies in the book. I like the way it is simple, but not simplistic. Mr. Galloway gives some basic background history, actor/director bios, and can talk about the movie without giving away crucial parts or endings to spoil the story.
Part of the problem I have seen on the internet in discussing the genre is a tendency to violate all of the above. I've seen Japanese history seriously mangled, and people clueless about basic background issues a Japanese person might know going into a movie. So, what you may read on the net is a lot of opinion, but have nothing to do with what the director intended. Just because one sees a Japanese movie does not make one an expert in Japanese history, culture, or religious/ethical issues a movie may bring up. That factual basis is lacking, and this is where I think Galloway's book is a good foundation in understanding the basics of all of this.
The one minor area I think was weak in the book is the "availability" of movie issue in the book. This is really a "relative" issue of how well you know how to use a search engine these days. Almost all of these movies in the book I found in the past pretty easy to find. These days if you know how to use amazon, or google you can get your movies in a few clicks. Almost anything English subtitled you can find on a search engine. There are a few tricks to this though so it is good to check up on who is selling you movies. It is the stuff that is not subtitled and not on Japanese websites you have to know a few things and few people to get, but I suspect most people reading this will not care too much about those movies since they lack subtitles.
So, it is a good book to have, or if you know someone that wants to get into these movies then this would be a good place to start.
In fact, Galloway is explicit about the purpose of this reference book. It "provides historical background, cultural insights, production anecdotes, actor and director bios"  and the aforementioned plot synopses. Those looking for a more Leonard Maltin-like review guide should probably look elsewhere.
Unlike another reader, however, I was not disappointed by a lack of reviews - it is quite clear that Galloway picked his films carefully and that he's an enthusiastic booster for each film in the book.
As for misinformation, film budgets and the financial equations used to calculate them are always arguable. What is not arguable, however, is the depth of research Galloway undertook with regard to the information about directors, actors, scripts, and Japanese language and history. I would be amazed if Tatsuya Nakadai would allow his name to be attached to a book that misrepresented the genre or the creative people who produced these films (Nakadai is a well-known Japanese actor who appears in several of the films described in the book and provides a "thumbs up" review blurb on the book's back cover).
I think it is evident that the films chosen for inclusion are the result of Galloway's belief that these particular films are important for aesthetic as well as historic reasons and, well, because he enjoys them and wants to share his enthusiasm for these films with other viewers.
Similar to a list of last year's "best movies," one can always argue for the inclusion or exclusion of a particular film. However, Galloway is explicit about his desire to whet appetites for Japanese film (and not just chambara or jidai-geki, either) by providing an entertaining and highly readable guide to a selection of films he considers representative of the best in the genre. This is not meant to be an exhaustive or encyclopedic survey of every chambara produced.
This is a handbook for those movie fans who want more background on an already-loved genre and, more importantly, this is a must-have book for those who are beginning to explore the wonderful world of Japanese samurai films. Buy the book and begin expanding your cinematic world!