At first, the fantasy horror of writer-director Till Kleinert’s Der Samurai appears tame by the standards of the genre, rooted simply in the fear of the unknown, of strange occurrences gripping a closed-off community. By night, a wolf panics the denizens of a German ’burb by overturning garbage bins and spooking pooches, and it’s up to a policeman, Jakob (Michel Diercks), to keep the animal at bay by hanging bags of meat from branches in the woods. Resourceful as he may seem, he’s incompetent at deflecting the insults of the town’s young biker gang, whose doofus leader taunts him for never having fired his pistol. He means dick, of course, and if that wasn’t already clear, we get a scene where Jakob contemplates kissing a woman whose tire he changes in the woods; that he fails to follow through attests to his common sense, though we’re encouraged to think it’s because he doesn’t have the balls. And by the time Jakob is scouring the woods for a blade-wielding transvestite (Pit Bukowski), one of the most unusual rise-of-the-oppressed-underdog stories the movies have ever seen has been set into offensive motion.
Genre fiction can open up playgrounds of escape for the oppressed, though it isn’t clear if the gates of this metaphorically muddled fantasy have been thrust open by a victim of bullying or the bully himself. And it’s that lack of clarity that gives Der Samurai it’s only real sense of danger. Though Kleinert doesn’t go to any lengths to convey the sense of alienation felt by his country mice (most are conspicuous by their absence), it’s understood that the titular menace, a manifestation of the wolf that Jakob hunts, represents all of the “depravity” that the ostensible innocents of this small world might catch a glimpse of in a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film playing on television. Repugnant as Kleinert’s correlation between a wild animal and a cross-dresser may be, one is tempted to cut the filmmaker some slack given the transvestite’s cagey agenda: He doesn’t wish Jakob any harm, seemingly pushing him only toward prankish self-expression by having him amusingly destroy a plastic pink flamingo in someone’s backyard.
Der Samurai eventually reaches its repugnant prime on an actual playground. (Spoilers herein.) With a school coach hanging upside down and waiting to be gutted from a soccer net, and the decapitated bodies of Jakob’s bullies sitting on nearby bleachers, the young police officer agrees to a dance with the transvestite. This impromptu reimagining of Cinderella, with Jakob’s fairy godmother giving the police officer the prom that he probably never had, is some kind of triumph of batshit-crazy outrageousness. But the implications of the warped set piece are also unmistakably noxious, beginning with Jakob, realizing that he and the transvestite are one and the same. If so, call it hara-kiri when Jakob summons the courage to chase the transvestite through the woods and slice him to bits, though not before his tormentor has revealed to him his fully erect penis. Because in the fantasy world of Kleinert’s creation, a nebbish can only become a man once he’s summoned the courage to kill all that is effeminate inside of him.