Jakob (Michel Diercks) didn’t want to hunt the wolf that was terrorizing the village he polices. Instead, he fed the wolf. What that means about who he is as a person is the entire provocation for what is one of the most surreal and well-realized fantasy horror experiences I have had in recent memory. The Samurai is a fever dream that doesn’t let up until its explosive conclusion, which brings thoughts of zany movies like Holy Motors and Borgman to mind, but more deftly handled than the latter.
I love weird films, but more often than not, they go a bit too weird and it becomes more about the visuals or insanity of it all than having a point. The Samurai is not a movie which fills your head with intense themes of violence or loneliness. It has tinges of meaning, but the film is more intent on being a character study. Because of this, Jakob winds up more as an onlooker to everything that is happening in his small German village. When a man in a dress (Pit Bukowski), whose last name is “Wolf”, has a sword mailed to Jakob, he brings the katana to him, opening up a night of violence and self-reflection.
The premise is the hook, but inside the film is something far more surreal than could be imagined. This night of horror contains so many visually stimulating shots that it is hard to not see this movie playing at an arthouse theater at midnight. It’s a violent movie, but it contradicts its moments of darkness with humor. The black comedy angle works in its favor to accentuate Bukowski’s engaging performance as the samurai Jakob is hunting. Mystery and intrigue surround his character but it is fairly obvious what his purpose is by the time the movie reaches its halfway point.
Jakob is a lot less interesting, and at times it felt like his character was uneven. Seeing cracks in his character is kind of the point, but it sometimes comes at the time when a more in-line response would have stopped the film or hurt the pacing. This slightly ends up being for the better, but it is disappointing to have a character wrestle with emotions when we care so little about him. He keeps winding up confused – a reaction I felt multiple times – but never feels like more than that until the end of the film.
The Samurai is led by Bukowski’s performance and character, which not only drives the narrative but latches onto the viewer’s own intrigue. It isn’t handled in a way that feels weird for the sake of being weird. Everything is always justified in some capacity, even when it seems like writer/director Till Kleinert is just toying with Jakob (and the viewer). Unfortunately, the film would have wound up a better character study if it had let Jakob be more than a man of inaction. It’s the point of his character, but it detaches the viewer from any care of his plight.