Anybody looking for deep characterizations or philosophic, literary inquiry need read no further: "Katana" translates as "sword," and that's exactly what director Ryuji Yamakita dishes out — a heaping helping of delirious stage chanbara (Samurai sword action, to you) delivered with the slimmest pretext of a dramatic narrative. Writers Koji Tanaka and Misa Nagasaki stitch a survey of familiar samurai-cinema archetypes and genre tropes onto a vaguely Peckinpah-esque spine of adversarial male bonding and set it against the political violence of the bakumatsu, the civil strife between pro- and anti-Shogunate groups that ushered in the modern Meiji restoration. The story follows progressive but reluctant swordsman Shuzo (the fine Masa Kanome) and firebrand Shogunate reactionary Riki (a forceful Toshiya Agata), who temporarily set aside their differences to guide saintly young Saki (Kyoko Okazaki) to deliver a peace petition to the Shogun in Edo. Along the way, Shuzo and Riki battle knife-wielding prostitutes, face uncounted bandits and find true love in an all-female farming village. Choreographer Keiya Tabuchi's dazzling action sequences (featuring the spectacular acrobatics of swordswoman Mao Asou), a delightful comic turn by Shu Sakimoto and Yamakita's sure-handed direction round out an unlikely melodrama that plays like The Wizard of Oz meets Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy. The remaining performances are in Japanese. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Aug. 26. (310) 828-7519, iki-e.com or morgan-wixson.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: Aug. 10. Continues through Aug. 26, 2012