Red Shadow Aka Kage

Rating: * * 1/2 Director: Hiroyuki Nakano Running time: 108 minutes Language: JapaneseOpens Aug. 11 at Marunouchi Toei and other theaters

Silent-era samurai movies fulfilled the same function as the westerns of W.S. Hart and Tom Mix: They entertained the common herd, particularly rowdy boys, with larger-than-life heroes and action.

Pioneer samurai star Tsumasaburo Bando, who made dozens of films with director Masahiro Makino, was known less for his acting skills than his fantastic feats of swordplay, cutting swaths through crowds of opponents as though they were so many stalks of rice. Meanwhile, Makino described his filmmaking philosophy as: "One, strong plot; two, no unessentials; and three, continual movement."

That philosophy served Makino well through a long and successful career, from his 1928 debut "Roningai" to the 1990 remake, on which he served as an adviser. The genre itself, however, went into a decline with the arrival of television and nearly disappeared from screens in the 1990s. Now we are in the midst of a mini-revival, led by such veterans as Masahiro Shinoda ("Fukuro no Shiro"), Nagisa Oshima ("Gohatto") and Kon Ichikawa ("Dora Heita"). But though this new spate of samurai films may be bringing older fans back to the theaters, they are not connecting with the younger, core audience in a significant way. One reason is that their directors may throw in the occasional splashy effect using computer graphics or one-against-50 sword-fighting scene, but they are still wedded to styles and concerns that have everything to do with their status as auteurs, little to do with selling popcorn and T-shirts to teenagers.