The film was nominated for three 'Awards of the Japanese Academy' of which it won two. Hiroyuki Sanada won best newcomer of the year and Tokumichi Igawa and Yoshikazu Sano took the award for best art direction. The film was nominated for best sound, however did not win the award.
Following the massacre of many thousands of Christians by soldiers of the Tokugawa Empire after the Shimabara Rebellion, Shiro Amakusa renounces the God who he feels abandoned them, and bargains his soul to the forces of darkness for the power to take his revenge. He gains the power to resurrect the dead, and begins with Hosokawa, the wife of a samurai who mocked her for her chastity and then left her to die during the invasion. Shiro restores her beauty in exchange for her loyalty. Next, they travel to the cave of legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who regrets that he neglected his lovely wife to find more opponents to duel, and that his advanced age prevents him from challenging the one rival he considered worthy to test his technique. He initially resists the pair, but suffers a heart attack and agrees to join them. During this exchange, his cave is visited by Yagyu Jubei, son of a samurai master and a powerful swordsman in his own right. Jubei rushes to Musashi's aid only to find an empty suit of armor. The unholy trio then encounter Inshun, a Buddhist monk who is plagued with terrible fantasies of sex and death. Hosokawa taunts him with the failings of his monastic teachings, and he commits suicide in despair, becoming one of Shiro's undead in the process.
At a local Iga ninja village, young Kirimaru is excited to learn that Jubei is on his way. However, before he can arrive, their Tokugawa controlled rivals the Koga ninja ambush the village with flaming arrows, killing everyone except Kirimaru. He fights his way through the forest against a female ninja, and is mortally wounded, but the female ninja is assaulted by Inshun. The rest of the Koga attack, but are quickly dispatched by the undead warriors. A dying Kirimaru is tenderly offered resurrection by Shiro, and he accepts. Jubei returns to the village to find it in shambles, and goes looking for Kirimaru. He encounters the undead battalion, now on horseback, and they taunt him before leaving, promising to meet again.
In a remote shrine, Shiro chants a ritual curse to wither Tokugawa's crops. The curse succeeds, and a desperate mob petition the magistrate to lift their yearly tax in light of their situation, but his samurai attempt to drive the mob away. Kirimaru comes through the forest to find a young girl mourning the loss of her parents; her father was killed by one of the magistrate's men during the protest. He offers her a flower for their grave, but is overcome by remorse as she sings for them. Meanwhile, Jubei approaches the secluded mountain home of the legendary sword maker Muramasa. He is shocked to learn that his father, Yagyu Tajima, recently approached Muramasa to commission a sword that would not only cut human flesh, but demonic spirits as well. Jubei wishes a similar sword as well, since Muramasa was exiled by his master Masamune due to his evil nature, and only a truly evil sword can defeat an evil demon. However, Muramasa's daughter Otsu claims that making the sword for Jubei's father has considerably weakened the smith. Muramasa reveals that Otsu is actually the daughter of Musashi's neglected wife who he has adopted as his own. Jubei tells them that he wants the sword to fight against Musashi and the rest of the demons. Just then, the ground begins to tremble as the undead Musashi approaches. Jubei bars the door, and Musashi begins to fight his way in until Otsu plays a haunting tune on her flute. Musashi recognizes the tune and staggers off confused.
Muramasa agrees to make the most evil blade ever to help Jubei defeat the demons, and they begin construction. The villagers are approached by the Shogun's men, who read a proclamation that Tokugawa himself is coming for a lavish hunting party, and expects a high tribute in gold or servitude, nearly inciting a riot among the peasants. Shiro encounters a confused Kirimaru at the shrine, and encourages him to seduce the young girl he met, and to sacrifice her to their dark gods in order to shed his youthful turmoil. He attempts to force himself on the girl by a river, but finds he cannot go through with it. After she runs off, Jubei appears and confronts Kirimaru, who begs Jubei to kill him and put him out of his torment. Jubei draws his sword, however after hearing Kirimaru singing the same song the girl did, he tells Kirimaru that he is also a swordsman and thus his destiny is to fight. If he fights with all his ability and one day feels defeated by his own darkness, only then will Jubei release him. Jubei returns to Muramasa to continue work on his sword.
During the Shogun's hunt, a number of villagers run through the field to present him with a written complaint about the taxes. Hosokawa uses her dark magic to convince Tokugawa and the elder Yagyu that the villagers are actually large deer, and they shoot the peasants down with arrows. Later, the peasant bodies have been crucified on a hill for all the village to see, and the people begin praying loudly and clacking stones together in mourning. Muramasa completes his greatest blade ever, and after telling Jubei "If you encounter God, God will be cut" he collapses dead. As the villagers' uneasy vigil extends into the night, Shiro possesses a local woman to tell the crowd that they can lift the curse by burning Tokugawa's men and spreading the ashes. He causes the bodies to glow, which finally incites the crowd to riot, tearing down the fence and charging the samurai on the hill. They cut down as many peasants as they can but are overwhelmed and killed. Shiro rides up and gives the crowd the magistrate's head on a pole, and incite them to ride to Edo and overthrow the Shogun.
As the peasants march, Kirimaru attempts to escape with his girl, but is blocked by Shiro, who reveals Kirimaru's demonic nature. He tries to battle Shiro using his ninja training, but Shiro overcomes him with a magical whip that transforms into a flock of birds that strangle him. Jubei prepares to place Muramasa's body on a funeral pyre, when the girl brings him Kirimaru's body as well. Before they can act, Musashi approaches and challenges Jubei to meet him on an island at sunrise for a duel. He accepts, much to Otsu's chagrin, and declares it to be "the way of the sword". The following morning, he heads to the beach to battle Musashi, who claims not to be swayed a second time by Otsu's flute. The two masters engage each other on the surf as Otsu plays a frenetic tune, until Jubei finally splits Musashi's scabbard and face in half before impaling him through the heart. Musashi's lifeless body drifts out in the tide.
As the peasants' furious uprising is advancing on the capital, the Shogun's advisors speculate on the future of the Empire. The dying Yagyu Tajima-no-kami Munenori is approached by Shiro about his son Jubei's impending arrival and yields to Shiro's dark influence. Revived from death by Shiro, Tajima begins killing the members of the castle. Meanwhile, Hosokawa Gracia has called out the name of her husband, lord Hosokawa Tadaoki, in her sleep, prompting a fit of jealously from the Shogun, her new lover. In the struggle, a lamp is knocked over and sets the room on fire. She freaks out, drawing a weapon and running through the castle declaring that she will not be abandoned again and confusing her lover with her husband. She begins attacking retainers, encountering Tajima who also attacks. With the building ablaze, and Hosokawa and Tajima on a killing rampage, the whole castle is thrown into chaos. Tajima kills many men and dares his son to come fight him before the flames die down.
Upstairs, Hosokawa has the Shogun hostage in the fire, and Shiro reveals himself as the leader of the "Christian Believers". He condemns the Shogun to burn in agony as the Christians did. An insane Hosokawa promises to never leave his side, clutching him as they both fall into the fire. As the castle collapses, Tajima is confronted by Jubei, who has covered his body with Buddhist prayer symbols and chastises his father for obsessing only on his swordplay to the point of coming back from hell to fight his own son. The two begin to duel, during which Jubei loses his eyepatch; although his sword is broken, he disarms his father and kills him.
Shiro appears and offers to let Jubei join him; Jubei declines and vows to set his father and Kirimaru's souls at peace. After a brief fight, Jubei decapitates Shiro; although this does not kill him, his body catches his head and promises to return as long as humans have evil in their heart before melting into the flames.Sonny Chiba as Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi
Kenji Sawada as Amakusa Shiro Tokisada
Tomisaburo Wakayama as Yagyū Tajimanokami Munenori
Ken Ogata as Miyamoto Musashi
Akiko Kana as Hosokawa Gracia / Akechi Tama
Hideo Murota as Priest Inshun Hozoin
Hiroyuki Sanada as Iga no Kirimaru
Tetsuro Tamba as Muramasa
Mikio Narita as Matsudaira Izunokami Nobutsuna
Noboru Matsuhashi as Tokugawa Ietsuna
Jun Ōba as Yagyu Samon Tomonori
Etsuo Shima as Yagyū Matajūrō Munefuyu
Masataka Naruse as Genjuro Koga
Asao Uchida as Sakai Utanokami Tadayo
Haruki Kadokawa as Itakura Naizennokami Shigemasa
Gōzō Sōma as Abe Bungonokami Tadaaki
Sen Okamichi as Hotta Bichunokami Masamori
Masataka Kobayashi as Toda Ujikane
Saburo Hayashi as Mizuno Katsushige
Hideo Nakae as Hosokawa Tadatoshi
Hideo Shimada as Tachibana Muneshige
Shintarō Mibu as Nabeshima Katsushige
Mizuho Suzuki as Ogasawara Hōmyō Hidekiyo
Shigerō Shiroi as Sasaki Kojirō
Naoko Kubo as Yajima no Tsubone
Kinji Nakamura as Ishida Kazusanokami
Kenji Kawai as Kamio Bizennokami
Yasuhiro Suzuki as Tomita Shuzen
Masaharu Arikawa as Izaki Heinai
Masataka Iwao as Yasui Tōbei
Jun Hamamura as Shigesaemon
Hiroshi Inuzuka as Sōgorō
Katsutoshi Akiyama as Yohei
Takashi Noguchi as Hikosaku
Noboru Mitani as Traveling Monk
Kayoko Shiraishi as Hosokawa Gracia (Ghost Voice)
Mineko Maruhira as Peasant
Aoi Nakajima as Peasant Girl
Takeshige Hatanaka as Samurai
Seizō Fukumoto as Koga Ninja
Produced by Haruki Kadokawa (executive producer)
Original Music by: Hozan Yamamoto
Cinematography by: Kiyoshi Hasegawa
Film Editing by: Isamu Ichida
Production Design by: Yoshikazu Sano
Art Direction by: Tokumichi Igawa
Sound Department: Shigeji Nakayama (sound recordist)
"If you should encounter God, God will be cut."
Based on the same source material, (legendary Japanese novel Makai Tensho by Futaro Yamada), the story for Samurai Reincarnation strongly resembles the plot from the 1995 hit anime Ninja Scroll. Both share wandering samurai Jubei as the title character, as well as many of the same Clan and villain names. They also share the concept of reincarnation as a form of super powered kung-fu mastery.
The showdown between Yagyu Jubei and Musashi Miyamoto occurs in a location used a year before in the Fukasaku film Virus.
Original American Release on home video deleted much of the middle of the movie reducing the running time from 122 minutes to 88 minutes and eliminating many important plot points such as the introduction of Jubei's Father.