First Samurai in New York

East meets Western in Justin Ambrosino’s short film, First Samurai in New York. In the late 1800’s New York, Japanese single mother Izumi Naito arrives with her children to a foreign land known as Staten Island. Friendless and “different” Izumi’s gestures of friendship are rebuffed by her irritable (dare I say racist) neighbor McGuire (Wayne J. Miller). Unsure of her family’s safety, Izumi goes to Manhattan to look for potential new homes, while leaving her daughter Chiyo (Maho Honda) to watch over her young brother and sister, Ken (Seika Atai) and Fuji (Asahi Ari).

Meanwhile, local thug Fig McHanan (Gabe Fazio) is making the rounds collecting debts with the help of his heavy, Bull Doyle (Mike Houston). The deadly pair moves on to their next victim, Izumi’s neighbor McGuire dragging him outside to collect payment in either cash or blood. Daughter Chiyo comes to the rescue using her deceased father’s samurai sword and a few quick martial arts kicks, jabs, and punches.

Simply put, First Samurai in New York is an empowered female, fish-out-of-water, martial arts fight, western short. Ambrosino’s film succeeds on its simple story of heroism and the coolness factor of the samurai in an old U.S. location.

“…a Japanese single mother arriving alone with her children to a foreign land known as Staten Island.”

Overall, the short is good but could have been great only if it had been pushed a little harder. For example, the acting is just a little too cliched for the time period giving it a spaghetti-western flavor and a little too scripted and melodramatic. The film’s setting, location, and the home are in desperate need of more interesting camera angles.

Most important, the reason this short exists is the gun, sword, and martial arts fighting/choreography. While the fight was captured well, a last-minute study in advanced fight scene cinematography would have helped make the film even better.

Lastly, there’s a scene when Chiyo is teaching her sibling’s the art of sword fighting, and the sound effects are out of sync in just this moment.

Filmmaker Ambrosino has the story down. But next time, consider playing around with allowing the camera to add drama to a scene versus the camera merely capturing the drama of the scene.

First Samurai in New York (2018) Written and directed by Justin Ambrosino. Starring Maho Honda, Gabe Fazio, Kyo Kasumi, Wayne J. Miller, Mike Huston, Robert Privitera. First Samurai in New York screened in the Western Block at the 2018 HollyShorts Film Festival.

6 out of 10 stars

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