You were thinking “samurai,” weren’t you?
Academy-Award-nominated Samuel L. Jackson returns as Afro Samurai, hero(?) of the Spike TV animated series of the same name, this time in a two-hour movie called Afro Samurai: Resurrection. He doesn’t get a lot of voicing duty here — Afro doesn’t say much — but he more than makes up for it by also returning as Afro’s foul-mouthed chatterbox/imaginary friend/conscience/whatever Ninja Ninja.
The world of Afro Samurai is not easily pinned down. Feudal Japan, but in the future with motorcycles and cybernetic warriors with boom boxes. A world where duels of honor are fought with naked blades but Ninja Ninja can invoke Martha Stewart. Asian settings with a hip hop score laid down (again) by Wu Tang Clan member RZA.
If you’re not already a fan of anime, just imagine Heavy Metal, Shaft and Kill Bill all rolled into one and you’ll be on the right track.
In this world, the greatest swordsman is called Number One, so signified by his headband. He can be challenged for supremecy by anyone but they must be wearing the Number Two headband to do so, and competition for it is fierce. In season one Afro’s father was Number One and was murdered before his eyes. Afro spent his life training to become Number Two (he did) and challenge his father’s killer (he did). So far, all well within anime parameters.
In Resurrection Afro learns the hard lesson that vengeance never ends, as many of the children and widows of the victims he left behind like gum wrappers in the first season come after him. Chief among them is Sio, voiced by Lucy Liu, who is settling into a lucrative career playing crazy-beautiful swordfighters. Her plan, with the demented help of mad scientist and neuro-Weeble Professor Dharman, is to bring Afro’s father back to life so she can torture him to death more slowly this time and pay Afro back for the pain he’s caused. She’s also accompanied by Kuma, a savaged samurai held together with science and a big teddy bear head, and assisted by a series of whacked out warriors with varyign degrees of sanity and cybernetic implants.
Afro Samurai is based on the original art and story telling of manga artist Takashi Okazaki, but you don’t need to be familiar with it to appreciate “Resurrection.” Can’t hurt, though, and it’s worth seeking out.
There’s blood and fighting and blood and amazing artwork and blood and hilarious interjections by Ninja Ninja, who knows exactly how to puncture a tense moment (“Hey, Afro… Why you got to walk directly into every trap?”) which means, if he really is Afro’s inner voice made visible, that Afro is seriously messed up. And fun to watch.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection premieres 10 p.m., Jan. 25, on Spike TV. Check out the website here for video clips, a chat with Samuel L. Jackson, and the trailer.