Haunted Samurai

by Glenn Erickson Oct 03, 2023

Let’s pop back once again to take in an old-fashioned Lone Samurai saga — this one’s worth it. Preceding the Lone Wolf and Cub series but sharing a creator and some of the same violent stylistics, it’s a hero-on-the-road tale with creative, original touches, including a spy-ninja angle that enlists what looks like magic at work. The fact that we actually care about the characters puts it way ahead of the competition. It got a mini-release back in the day, and then disappeared completely from U.S. movie radar.

Haunted Samurai
Diabolik DVD / Surviving Elements
1970 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / Kaze no tengu; Shinobi Demon: Duel in the Wind; The Hunted Samurai / 83 min. / Street Date September 21, 2023 / Available from Diabolik DVD / 24.99
Starring: Hideki Takahashi, Masako Izumi, Isao Natsuyagi, Seiichiro Kameishi, Shoki Fukae, Yuji Kodaka, Eiji Go.
Cinematography: Minoru Yokoyama
Production Designer:
Art Director:
Assistant Director: Kazuhiko Hasegawa
Film Editor: Shinya Inoue
Original Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Screenplay by Kiyoshi Hoshikawa
Produced by
Directed by
Keiichi Ozawa (Keiichi Zawa?)

We’re told that in the early 1970s the venerated Nikkatsu studio gave in to market pressure and dropped its mainstream fare to concentrate on All-Adult erotic ‘Roman Porno’ films. A year or two before that event, the studio released this terrific samurai thriller, until now never seen on video here in the states. Haunted Samurai received a very brief U.S. release in 1971. We at CineSavant are not Japanese film experts, and thus are grateful for the tutoring afforded in disc extras, such as those on old Animego DVDs. When we’re really lost, we ask expert Stuart Galbraith IV for aid — we met him around 1999 or so while reaching for rare Toho Kaiju, and have stayed close even when Stuart relocated to Japan.

The nice thing about Haunted Samurai is that its enjoyment doesn’t need expert explanations. This odd new “Limited One Time Pressing” release carries a bold Diabolik DVD logo, the reliable online resource foreign imports. The branded line is called Surviving Elements. They say that this one-time effort ‘will not be repressed or reissued;’ whatever their plans are we wish them well. The disc is top quality, the encoding looks terrific and the movie itself is very entertaining, a winner.

A deserter’s fate will always follow you. Live to the utmost in spite of it.

Haunted Samurai’s original Japanese title is Kaze no Tengu. The title on-screen is the enticing Shinobi Demon: Duel in the Wind. From our experience it shapes up as a lively action swordplay film with a style revealing the influence of spaghetti westerns — the international cross-pollination of action genres has been well established.

The expert audio commentators reveal a strong selling point for the show: it’s based on a Manga by Gosecki Kojima, one of the co-creators of the game-changing  Lone Wolf and Cub  series, which began two years later. This show is more traditional and less insane-gory than the Kenji Misumi ‘Baby Cart’ movies, but still much bloodier and edgy than what we’d expect. Casual observers like myself remember the incredible spout of blood at the finale of Sanjuro . . . but that wasn’t in blazing Fujicolor.


Haunted Samurai carries few translated credits. The main character is a warrior with ‘spy’ skills, Rokuheita Kusanagi (Hideki Takahashi of Seijun Suzuki’s Tattooed Life ). He’s an honorable Samurai in the service of a lord who expects unquestioning obedience. Rokuheita undergoes two life-changing traumas for which he can’t evade responsibility. After the death of his sister by suicide, he refuses to kill a good man with a family, and deserts his service. On the road he finds himself pitted against the entire Yagyu ninja clan. After slaying various Yagyu assassins after his head, he stumbles into a destitute farming village and decides to become a humble farmer.

Rokuheita hides his weapons and throws his lot in with the family of the local elder, but soon tangles with the local politics. Besides random bandits, the villagers are preyed upon by the paid hoodlums of a local fat-cat merchant. Taxes levied by the local Yagyu governor have brought the villages to the brink of starvation; if a village hides food, the governor’s strong man-enforcer can kill a man for every bale hidden. Local women are also stolen for the governor’s pleasure.

Rokuheita also encounters another local fugitive from the clan, a self-confessed thief who was once a spy as well. The ex-spy has found that gold is hidden around the village, and is conducting a secret search. To maintain secrecy, the thief’s woman gives Rokuheita a small bag of gold dust with which to buy food for the villagers. Rokuheita has his own secret plan — he tasks his new farming comrades to plant stealth ‘tub plantings,’ to provide a subsistence diet while avoiding the governor’s taxes.

Haunted Samurai finds a lot of invention within its traditional genre borders. The action scenes are refreshingly original. I’m not sure of the distinction between ‘spy’ and ‘ninja’ in this show, but combatants sometimes launch themselves into the air Hong Kong-style. Rokuheita and other fighters occasionally pulls moves that look semi-magical — making themselves ‘disappear’ for a second or two. The unexplained effect is realized through simple jump cuts. In any case, we find part of the fun of Haunted Samurai is trying to figure out these wrinkles for ourselves.


Topless female ninja spies. Yes, that’s something new.

A seductive damsel on a beach leads Rokuheita into an ambush attempt by a corps of topless female ninja Yagyu spies (?). The sequence continues underwater; we’ve never seen anything like it. Rokuheita takes everything seriously. We align with him because he spares the nice-guy husband and father. But the actor does lean on his matinee good looks now and then, with a hint of a knowing smile. Seductive assassins have to be humored, if one wants to get the upper hand.

The combat scenes are excellent. They’re not as stylized as the Lone Wolf films yet edge into the same extreme violence: fountains of blood, a few severed limbs and other sundry gory details. Even the New York Times reviewer Howard Thompson noted the focus on exotic carnage:

“There’s one huge close-up of a human eyeball skewered by a knife. Even a poor, squealing mouse gets it, at random.”

Although not quite as razor-happy as Misumi’s slice ‘n’ dice Lone Wolf epics, excellent fight choreography gives us a similar feeling of being In The Thick of It — no circle of feeble pawns wait in turn to be slashed or skewered.

Most of Rokuheita’s adversaries are spy-ninja types. They make abundant use of mini-projectiles: throwing stars, shiny arrowhead-like items, and little white conical thingies. So does the hero, now and then, as he’s a trickster himself. All this weaponry means little when Rokuheita is able to deflect the objects with his sword, a knife and even his sleeves. Excellent camerawork and editing keeps these sequences from becoming silly.

Although we can’t keep any of the names straight (we never have) the various good folk and baddies are smartly distinguished through looks. A demure village girl takes a skinny dip but doesn’t use sex to attract RK. Possibly competing for her is a village man with a receding hairline. He turns out to be a stand-up guy, resisting torture when the governor’s enforcer wants to know where the gold’s hid.

The writers orchestrate the bad guys into a moral gradient. The governor is a profane lecher, his enforcer is a cold opportunist, the merchant is slimy and venal, and his colorful ruffians favor odd costumes, eye patches and special weapons. Some ornate flint-lock pistols come into play — have there been Portuguese traders around lately?

The ‘thief ex-spy’ character has some good qualities but is too greedy for redemption. The surprise is that the main Yagyu threat (Isao Natsuyagi) is a man of honor and integrity. He voluntarily helps RK, to clear the decks for a personal duel. We were kind of hoping that both of them would quit the violent Life and become farmers, but the genre-bending doesn’t go that far.

The climactic duel leaves the fate of the village, the heroine and the good-guy local up in the air. The swordfight takes place during the ‘magic’ of a solar eclipse, while the villagers huddle in the dark chanting a variation on Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. The visual effect depicting the eclipse is surprisingly good.

We found Haunted Samurai to be a real kick. We had lost interest in the general run of product, sticking to classics by name directors. This one brought back some of the old fun, reminding us that Japanese violence really shocked us back in 1973, even after pictures like The Wild Bunch.


Diabolik DVD / Surviving Elements’ Blu-ray of Haunted Samurai is a happy surprise. The disc has been promoted as a small-scale release, and we weren’t expecting the presentation to equal those of the big-name hard media video boutiques. It does. Nikkatusu’s elements are in perfect shape, picture and sound. Colors are brilliant at all times, and the very good lighting delivers consistently attractive images.

Since the late 1950s all mainstream Japanese features were produced in ‘scope. The Nikkatsuscope image is as sharp as a tack, unlike many anamorphic Japanese presentations that tend toward softness. The wholly modern music score by the incredibly prolific Hajime Kaburagi (Panda and the Magic Serpent,  Invasion of the Neptune Men,  Tokyo Drifter) highlights the film’s sprightly pace — at just 83 minutes, this feature never bogs down.

At the time of writing the limited pressing is only available through the Diabolik DVD page, so don’t expect to see it listed far and wide.

The show comes with an un-subtitled trailer, also in excellent condition. A big help to non-Samurai experts will be the one full extra, a new audio commentary by author Chris Poggiali and former Video Watchdog co-editor John Charles. Their talk goes into great detail, starting with the fact that Nikkatsu was Japan’s first movie studio, and that it went through a number of re-inventions over the years. The show has a rough historical basis in that there was a Yagyu Clan, although not the all-purpose villainous group seen in various samurai epics.

The commentators underscore Haunted Samurai’s relative obscurity. The IMDB carries few credits, not even a link to its Manga originator Goseki Kojima. In its brief U.S. release sub-distributed by Toho, the show played in the three large Japanese American markets of the time, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. James Ursini used to go with me to our local Kokusai theater. I was at the Toho La Brea a couple of times to pick up prints for Nick Petersen’s samurai film series at UCLA, but I never actually saw a film there — it was expensive!

Charles and Poggiali also surprise us with a technical observation of the kind I’d pick out — at 42:55 they spot cameraman Minoru Yokoyama (Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp) using a split diopter lens device to keep two planes of depth in focus. That’s a very good trick in an anamorphic movie, especially in a dark interior.

The agreeable commentary makes mention of Chris Poggiali’s website-blog Temple of Schlock, the title of which is an outright lie … we found a lot of interesting content.

They aren’t kidding about the film’s obscurity — the only frame grabs I could locate were from a bulletin board.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Haunted Samurai
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good +
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Commentary by film historian Chris Poggiali and John Charles
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case in folding card cover.
October 1, 2023

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Don Paul

A genre that I knew nothing about. Thanks.


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