Baian the Assassin is a Japanese TV series that ran from 1990-1993, starring Ken Watanabe in the title role of the doctor/assassin. The only reason I checked it out at all was because of Watanabe’s participation. I went into it thinking it was a film series, but a few minutes in, it becomes abundantly clear that this is television, if for no other reason than the 4:3 aspect ratio.
As a television series of its time and place, it looks pretty good. The Edo-specific locations all look great, as do the costumes, but most of the scenes are too brightly lit and someone obviously wanted to make the most of the wind and fog machine rentals. The transfer isn’t very good but I doubt the source material was of very high quality to begin with. It looks very similar to late-seventies series from the states.
It’s the script that really kills this, though. It isn’t exactly Kurosawa, or even Stephen J. Cannell. It’s like a Japanese version of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, but in this version Dr. Quinn is also an assassin who uses needles to quietly dispatch his prey. A few moments are interesting, but the plot is flimsy and it drags on for way too long. Like most television, the goal of the production seems to be filling time, not presenting a compelling story.
Watanabe is decent here, but much of the supporting cast overacts in almost every scene. They strained my credulity to the breaking point. Death scenes (and there are many) are particularly hard to watch. Fish on dry land flop around less.
There are also the odd bits of nudity peppered throughout. It was surprising to see random semi-nude women being examined by Sensei Baian. I realize that the Japanese aren’t as prudish as many Americans about such things, but it still seemed out of place.
If I’d known this was a TV series, I’d have skipped it. Now I wish I had. Watching it, I felt like I was waiting for it to end. Watanabe alone just isn’t enough reason to sit through bad TV. I don’t think I’ll be checking out the subsequent volumes.