Guttergeek Review: 365 SAMURAI

Posted by on January 20th, 2010 at 6:16 PM

J. P. Kalonji, 365 Samurai And A Few Bowls Of Rice (Dark Horse, 2009). $16.99, paperback.

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365 Samurai is a pleasure to look at. I almost wrote “to watch,” because in truth the pleasures are very similar to those of watching a Zatoichi film–breaking down the sword fights frame by frame. It is quite clear that Kalonji has spent a lot of time watching classic samurai films and hammering on the freeze frame button on his DVD player. One result is that he has the anatomy of a sword fight down to a science, and he frames his shots with an experienced cinematographer’s eye. The other result, is that his graphic novel remains in the end a series of shots—each page a single panel distilling the perfect angle on the particular moment in the particular battle, in what turns out to be an endless stream of encounters with seemingly willing victims in our protagonist’s goal to kill 365 samurai (and eat a few bows of rice).

The gutter is non-existent here, making the whole seem ever more cinematic. Or if there is a gutter, it is a temporal one, existing in the time it takes to turn from one single-paneled page to the next. As beautiful as every individual image is, the whole starts to feel more like a series of frames plucked from a film strip more than like a comic that invites the reader to fill in the space between the panels. The pages are beautiful, but despite the kinetic energy being represented they feel framed, static–designed to be appreciated as distinct aesthetic objects rather than in tension and relationship to one another. In the end, the experience left me feeling decidedly removed from the action.

But maybe that is part of the point. After all {spoilers ahead} the whole journey to kill 365 samurai in order to learn the meaning of life turns out to be more of a spiritual journey than a literal one, and the final lessons learned seem pretty familiar to the it-was-all-a-dream genre (“there’s no place like home!”). I was happy at the end that our protagonist found enlightenment at the end of his harrowing adventures. What I found at the end, however, was an artist to admire and a book of beautiful drawings to flip back through, but little to make me want to read it all again in order—or to believe it made any difference in the end in what order I admired the pictures.

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