Chris & Marcey’s March Movie Exchange: Week 4 – The Twilight Samurai (2002)

Movie Exchange

What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Chris’ criteria for Marcey: Samurai Films
Why Chris Chose This Film For Marcey: When you think of samurai films you normal think of the sprawling epics of Akira Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki or the blood soaked revenge films such as The Lone Wolf and Cub series, but there is a film that surpasses all of these films as it is neither an epic or or revenge film. Directed by acclaimed director Yoji Yamada and starring Hiroyuki Sanada in his finest performance, Tasogare Seibei, (The Twilight Samurai) tells the tale of a recently widowed samurai who lives a simple life with his two young daughters and an aged mother, it is a life without glory and one that Seibei Iguchi (Sanada), nicknamed ‘Twilight’ by his companions, is happy to follow. This is a beautifully made film that truly highlights the true nature of what it is to be samurai, and is one of the few films that accurately depicts the day to day living of the samurai and villagers during the late 1860’s in Japan. I saved this film for last as it is one of my all time favorite films that upon my first viewing left me in tears. I know that this is a film that Marcey will enjoy because not only does it have a great story, but it has all the things that Marcey enjoys in a film like this, great characters, dialogue, great moments of comedy, beautiful locations, the depiction of a simpler way of life and two of the most adorable child actors. There’s a very good reason why this film was Japans entry into the 2002 Best Foreign Language category for the Oscars, and I know that Marcey will love it.

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Marcey’s Review
Set in 1860’s Japan, The Twilight Samurai tells the story of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a samurai who has been recently widowed after his wife died of consumption (tuberculosis). He lives a simple life with his clan in a village where he writes the books and keeps track of the goods. He has two young daughters and an elderly mother who doesn’t remember him anymore. They live in poverty due to the changing times in Japan, as the samurai struggle to keep their identity and way of life.

This is a simple story about a simple man, he is a trained samurai yet he sits all day doing the books and when it is time to leave he goes straight home. He is given the nickname, Twilight by his companions is because of this, he doesn’t go out after work, instead he goes home to his family and continues to work to keep some kind of income coming in. The death of his wife is hard, yet his childhood crush, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) returns into their lives. She is recently divorced from a drunk and abusive man, and she comes over to help run the household. But due to his feelings about his own self worth, he can’t bring himself to marry this woman whom he clearly loves.

With Tomoe coming into his life, Seibei winds up facing her former drunk husband in a duel, which is forbidden in the clan. Since Seibei fought with a stick and not a sword and managed to knock him out cold, word spreads and he gains a reputation. This all leads Seibei to be asked to take on a kind of traitor, something Seibei does not want to do. With his two girls needing him, and his life being that without battle, he finds it hard to want to accept the task.

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The Twilight Samurai is a very realistic look at the samurai life, this isn’t a film with epic sword fights and battles. This shows the life they lead back in the 1860’s, when Japan was coming to a cross roads in its own cultural history. The poverty that Seibei lives in is something he takes on, he doesn’t long for anything more. He wants to provide for his family, it really is as simple as that. Despite this film taking place over a 150 years ago, they face the same issues and do the same things we do today. There are people struggling to make ends meet, who just want to live the quiet life. There are families that do support themselves because of their situation. Domestic abuse isn’t a new thing in society either as seen in the film, Tomoe’s brother got her away from an abusive husband. The co-workers of Seibei are huge gossips, just give them a watercooler and they would be set.

I really loved how this film was a drama but it had subtle humour to it. The scenes with Seibei’s mother remembering Tomoe and not her own son was rather cute, and I know many can relate to that with relatives being in that condition. There was something humorous about the duel, with Seibei wanting no one to know, and then it becomes the village gossip quickly. It really has a big heart, and a soft heart, it is an honest film. Things do get serious when Seibei has his mission, and not to spoil anything but those scenes are intense and have amazing dialogue. To be honest it was almost refreshing to see a samurai film looking at their way of life and focus on one character and how he lives. As much as I do love the sword fights and battles, this was a quieter film. Different, and it is easy to see how this got Oscar Nominated as Best Foreign Language Film.

This film did sweep up the awards in Japan and rightfully so. It has an amazing script, it is expertly directed by one of Japan’s long working directors in Yôji Yamada. The performances are also excellent with it’s star Hiroyuki Sanada shining ever so brightly. I thought Rie Miyazawa was absolutely delightful, it was easy to see how Seibei loved her so. Reiko Kusamura was just adorable as the mother, she has this kind and innocent face that made her perfect casting. Min Tanaka was truly incredible in his short role, and absolutely deserving of all the praise.

Overall this is a beautiful film, it does have those moments of sadness, and it is made all the more interesting that it is narrated by Seibei’s youngest daughter when she is an older woman. As far as I am concerned this is one of the best films I have seen, and a must see for cinema lovers.

Rating
StarRating-05

 Review written by Marcey Papandrea

You can purchase The Twilight Samurai on DVD from MadMan – http://www.madman.com.au/catalogue/view/5049/twilight-samurai-the

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