Although I've never seen it, Doc Hollywood must be a fantastic movie for all the clones that it's spawned since its release in 1991. The formula of 'big city guy goes to little town and falls in love with amazingly hot girl' is trite these days and I'm pretty sure it was a bit long in the tooth when Hollywood came out. However, it's a scenario that can provide some decent awkward laughs and, in the case of Doc Hollywood, occasionally provide some nice naked boobies.
Three String Samurai does not provide boobies, but it's still a pretty good take on an old idea with some good music to boot. It takes the Doc Hollywood formula and spins it into an amusing story about an arrogant musician who learns to channel his soul into his music. Oh, and try to get a kiss from a cute gal.
Follow me after the jump to learn more about this charming flick.
Three String Samurai (Over Drive)
Three String Samurai begins with a press conference for the fictional J-Rock band Zerodecibel. The lead singer Miki (Suzuki) has announced that their next single will be lacking guitar, leading to speculation about her rocky relationship with the guitarist, Gen (Kashiwabara). Turns out that the two are sick of each other and the next single will be the last one that Gen is a part of. Now Gen has to figure out how to provide instrumental work for the last single without using his guitar. Gen gets trashed in his hotel room with Jin, the other member of Zerodecibel, and staggars out into the night. He gets ambushed by the press, gives them the slip, hops into a nearby taxi and passes out in the back.
The next day, Gen wakes up in the back of the taxi and finds himself quite far from his intended destination. The cabbie, an old man named Goro, tells Gen that he has the right calluses for playing the tsugaru shamisen and takes the confused and hungover guitarist back to his house. With the proper application of guilt (a supposed ¥300,000 debt for the cab ride), fear (a German Shepard named Bob that scares Gen) and hormones (Goro's gluttonous granddaughter Akira is a hottie), Goro convinces the arrogant guitarist to stick around and learn how to play the shamisen. He learns how to play the instrument, get in touch with his musician's soul, falls for the girl, etc. You know how these stories go.
Like I mentioned pre-jump, there aren't any original ideas in this story. It's all stuff you've seen in various movies through the years and you can pretty much figure out what's going to happen early on. It's very much a "journey" movie instead of a "destination" flick. It's a pretty good thing then that the journey is fun and silly. Three String Samurai relies on putting Gen in various ridiculous situations and having Kashiwabara react in equally ridiculous ways. For the most part it works, as Gen goes through some fairly ridiculous bits of "training", incluidng being placed on a rock in the middle of the ocean and playing until hottie Akira can here him playing on the shore. Despite how annoyingly superior Gen occasionally acts, Kashiwabara makes him into a rather likable ass.
There's also a strong cartoony vibe, making Three String Samurai feel a lot like a short-form manga brought to life. Things like Gen dressing up in armor to make his escape, the various angels and devils that pop on his shoulder and the underground cave that Gen lives in during his training give a very playful vibe to the flick and it helps. I also personally dug the musical references, with Goro name-dropping Yo-Yo Ma, Van Halen and Jimmy Page as former students/abducties.The villain of the film has a Robert Johnson-esque back story about the cross-roads, adding another nice musical reference to the mix.
Speaking of music, Three String Samurai has some excellent tunes. Granted, that opinion is based on my personal enjoyment of the shamisen, so if you don't dig the traditional Japanese instrment you may not agree with me. As is, it's of similar quality to acts such as the Yoshida Brothers, who make a brief cameo via a concert film.There are also a couple of aural treats courtesy of Gen's taste in classic rock. The highlight is a rock classic played on a shamisen during the final face-off at the end of the flick. Unfortunately, the Zerodecibel song featured during the final credits is pretty awful, nowhere near living up to the music played through the rest of movie. It looks like Gen got out of Zerodecibel at the right time.
As much as I did like Three String Samurai, there are a couple things that didn't rub me the right way. Besides the rote premise, the flick is pretty shallow. In a movie where the main character barely gets developed, you can only imagine how every body else is treated. Beside Goro, every other character is as flat as a loli drinking week-old Coke on a surfboard. The only other standout is the villain and he gets a pass for having odd makeup and and a busted weave. There's also the fact that I don't believe that Gen would put up with Miki for as long as he did. I know he's supposed to be arrogant, elitist and aloof, but you figure he's had enough real world experience to figure out that Miki is cuckolding him. She's also pretty damn annoying right from the jump.
On a positive note, I will say that Akira serves her purpose as the "hot girl that keeps cocky prick in place" very well. So well in fact that I'll interrupt this review to insert a photo of her eating an apple during one of her eating binges.
Ah, ain't that nice?
Another minor problem is the run time of the flick. Three String Samurai clocks in at about 120 minutes, which doesn't seem too long but feels it. Now, I'm not saying that I was bored when watching the movie, but another editing pass certainly wouldn't have hurt. I could easily see how they could chop it down to 100 minutes and make the whole thing tighter. Granted, that's just my personal view on the flick, buy hell, this is my opportunity to play armchair editor.
All in all, Three String Samurai is an entertaining, if unoriginal, movie. There's nothing new here, but the pieces come together to make a silly movie about a pompous guitar player learning the wonders of classical instruments. I wouldn't recommend buying the movie, as there's little reason to return to the movie for multiple viewings, but it's just right for a rental. Oh, and Akira is SO worth going through shark-infested waters with only a shamisen for company.
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