THE CHALLENGE (1982)
Article 4365 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Scott Glenn, Toshiro Mifune, Donna Kei Benz
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: Modern Samurai movie
A down-on-his-luck boxer takes a job to transfer a sword from the United States to Japan. Once there, he finds himself embroiled in a family blood feud centered around the possession of the sword.
There are some interesting things about this movie. One is in the credits; any movie featuring Toshiro Mifune is worth watching, if for no other reason than it features Toshiro Mifune, who could stand around motionless for a whole movie and still steal every scene. The other is the theme of ancient tradition vs. modern cynicism, a theme which causes the two sides of the feud to use different ages of technology in the battle between them. The presence of John Sayles as one of the writers is also worth noting. Other aspects of the movie are less exciting; I didn’t find Scott Glenn to be a particularly interesting actor, and the fish-out-of-water subtheme is obvious and trite. Nor am I particularly taken by the presence of John Frankenheimer as the director; his work during the sixties was so brilliant that I tend to find his later work to be distressingly ordinary, as it is here. Ultimately, despite the interesting elements, the movie never quite rings true for me, and I end up feeling that it could have been much better than it was. As for the fantastic content, the book that lists it classifies the movie as “sword and sorcery” with the justification that the sword has magical properties. I’ll buy that they have great symbolic power for the central characters (that’s what drives the plot), but if they have magical properties, there’s no manifestation of them here. In short, this movie is a false alarm.