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Twilight Samurai, The
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by EricDSnider

"It's the story of a widowed samurai who was busy with two girls of his own."
4 stars

"Twilight Samurai" is to Japanese samurai flicks what Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" was to American Westerns. It belongs to its violent genre even as it espouses a philosophy of anti-violence, and it spotlights characters who are far more thoughtful and humane than one normally finds in films of its type.

It is the 19th century, at a time when the samurai system is beginning to wane as Japan is beginning to modernize. Our hero is Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a quiet, disheveled men in his 30s whose wife has died after a long battle with consumption, leaving him to care for two young daughters and his own aging, senile mother. He trained at the dojo of an acclaimed master many years ago, but has since become entirely domesticated, intellectual and peace-loving. He encourages his daughters to read and think, unheard of for females in those days.

By chance he is reunited with Tomoe Iinuma (Rie Miyazawa), the girl he teased and payed with as a child who has now just been granted a divorce from her alcoholic, abusive husband Koda (Ren Osugi). Tomoe is sweet, maternal and smart, and her influence on Seibei's house -- both with housekeeping and in being a surrogate mother to Seibei's daughters -- is immediate. When Seibei must defend her against Koda one night, it would seem their fate is sealed. Surely Seibei and Tomoe are in love and will get married.

But Seibei is hesitant. This is, in fact, not an action movie but an inaction movie, a film about a man who cannot decide. Leaving behind his old samurai ways had the positive effect of making Seibei rational and calm, but it also took the occasionally necessary killer instinct out of him. He can no longer make important decisions quickly, as would a warrior in the midst of battle. He is mired in self-doubt and introspection, a sort of Japanese Hamlet.

Then the governing body of samurais known as the Clan (not the Klan, thank goodness) calls upon Seibei to dislodge and kill a rebel who has barricaded himself within his house. The rebel is skilled at short-sword combat, which was Seibei's expertise, too, back in the day. Seibei is told if he does not accept the assignment and kill the rebel, he will be put to death himself. The decision having been made for him, he sets out to perform the task.

Director Yoji Yamada, adapting the novels of Shuuhei Fujisawa, shoots the few duel scenes in this film with remarkable restraint. There are no quick cuts; there are hardly any cuts at all, in fact, the camera instead remaining neutral at a medium distance from the action. This has the double effect of showing us how skilled the actors are, as there clearly are no special effects being used, and also of making the action seem less adrenaline-fueled as in most films. The fights simply happen, without fanfare or melodrama. They are not romanticized or made to seem more thrilling than they are.

I am also quite taken with Hiroyuki Sanada's extremely sympathetic performance as Seibei. He's an honest, honorable man who loves his family but who has been thrown so many curveballs that he hardly knows what to do anymore. We feel for him immediately, hoping things will work out for him, and I marvel at how a character so far removed from modern Western culture can seem so much like you and me.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8211&reviewer=247
originally posted: 08/18/05 02:49:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/11/14 jeanne Love it so much, had to buy the DVD. Gorgeous cinematography, beautiful story. 5 stars
5/17/08 paul evans watched it tonight for the eighth time, rates as a superb movie.It is in my top 10 movies o 5 stars
5/12/06 Monster W. Kung Excellent. Makes "The Last Samurai" look like the rubbish it is. 5 stars
5/22/05 y2mckay Comedy, drama, romance, 2 great duels, and an excellent cast. Beautiful. 5 stars
3/22/05 john wallace Outstanding!!! 5 stars 5 stars
2/16/05 Maria A. Cabrera Wonderful! Just Wonderful! 5 stars
12/31/04 DM Slow at times, but it leaves a strong impression. 4 stars
11/21/04 neil maedel touching and very well made - aflick for the romantic 5 stars
7/12/04 Jeff Peden Unexpected, but very good 4 stars
3/16/04 Zeynep Görpe One of the best japanese movies that I have seen.. 5 stars
3/14/04 Lawrence Washington In all truth I wasn't expecting this type of movie, but I was completely satisfied with it. 5 stars
3/03/04 Larisa Zimmerman This movie is wonderful. I recommend it highly. 5 stars
2/21/04 K This is the real samurai movie. 5 stars
2/16/04 Patrick Donnelly A beautiful, intelligent, moving film 5 stars
2/09/04 bmwracer An excellent film worthy of its awards. 5 stars
2/04/04 Rob A great film. You may also want to consider When the Last Sword is Drawn... 4 stars
1/22/04 Pon If you are move, you must be without heart. 5 stars
1/07/04 Peter Lew A beautiful story and majestically photographed. 4 stars
12/05/03 Ken schisumarei 5 stars
12/03/03 Minh T. It's riveting film making 5 stars
11/10/03 peter k. unique perspective of the samurai 4 stars
11/10/03 Paul Honda Superior 5 stars
11/07/03 alex hatton better than sliced bread 5 stars
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  DVD: 28-Dec-2004



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