Time Slip (1981)


aka G.I. Samurai; Time Slip: The Day of the Apocalypse (Sengoku Jieitai)

Japan. 1981.


Director – Kosei Saito, Screenplay – Toshio Kaneda, Based on the Novel by Ryo Hammura, Producer – Haruko Kadokawa, Photography – Iwao Isayama, Music – Kentaro Haneda, Special Effects Supervisor – Hiyoshi Suzuki, Battles Scenes Choreographed by Sonny Chiba. Production Company – Toei


Sonny Chiba (Lieutenant Yoshiaki Iba), Isao Natsuki (Kagatore), Miyuki Ono (Village Girl)


A troupe of modern Japanese soldiers are on manoeuvres when they experience strange phenomena and then find themselves on a beach where they are attacked by soldiers in traditional samurai gear. They realise that they have been thrown back in time via a timeslip. The commander Lieutenant Yoshiaki Iba ignores cautions not to change history and tackles the attacking samurai factions with machine-guns, grenades and the tank and helicopter they have at their disposal. He makes an alliance with Kagatore, the general of a local shogun who desires to overthrow his master. Reasoning that the only way they will be able to return to their own time will be to conquer Japan, Iba then sets out take on the feudal armies using their superior military firepower.

This fascinating Japanese film came clearly inspired by the then recent American effort The Final Countdown (1980). The Final Countdown had an modern American aircraft carrier being transported back to the eve of Pearl Harbor and the crew facing the interesting dilemma of whether to intervene and stop the Japanese attack. In fact, Time Slip could almost be a combination of two films that came out in 1980 – The Final Countdown and Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic Kagemusha (1980).

Time Slip is the Japanese rejoinder to The Final Countdown in more ways that the obvious debt of inspiration. Where The Final Countdown had the primitive Japanese military forces as the enemy and showed modern American military firepower as all-powerful, Time Slip by contrast has the sheer force of primitive numbers and fights conducted with sticks and stones triumphing over modern military superiority. While The Final Countdown suffered a case of conceptual cowardice when it came to changing history and opted out of the question altogether with a corny plot device, Time Slip knows no such bounds. Sonny Chiba’s military commander throws out all concerns about changing history and leaps into the midst of battle with gung ho relish. Certainly, his peculiar notion that he will be able to get back to his own time by changing history is not one that seems to have been very well thought out. Nor does the film resolve the thrust of its story – in terms of allowing history to be changed – and instead goes out with an abrupt and downbeat anticlimax. One suspects that the script was never thought out beyond the initial concept of seeing modern military forces taking on horseback-mounted samurai armies – certainly, the film displays no more interest in the concept beyond the battle scenes and the appealing image of modern and feudal forces colliding.

What makes Time Slip entirely watchable is the amazingly brutal, unromanticised and bloodthirsty battle scenes. The film’s main set-piece is an all-out battle between modern military and samurai armies that goes on for some thirty minutes. It contains some amazing scenes – of one modern soldier holding off hundreds of foot-soldiers with a machine-gun, unarmed samurai managing to overwhelm a tank, one lone assassin armed with a knife managing to get aboard and down a helicopter, beheadings, ambush traps bringing down trucks, armies in the hundreds charging over multiple hillsides in the same shot. The ferocity and all-out ruthlessness of the scenes startles. It is surely one of the most amazing of all on-screen battle scenes. It was possibly even more brutal and bloodthirsty in the original Japanese print – while the original version runs to 139 minutes screen time, the English-language cinematic version of the film is missing 40 minutes and the US video version an entire 54 minutes.

Time Slip was later remade as Samurai Commando Mission 1549 (2005).

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