Thursday, September 24, 2009

When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003)


Samurai Kanichiro Yoshimura (Kiichi Nakai) leaves his small town clan in favor of joining the infamous Shinsengumi, in order to provide for his ever growing family. Along the way he finds an unlikely accomplice in the quiet assassin, Hajime Saito (Koichi Sato), who looks down upon his happy go lucky way. Years later Saito and a local Doctor recount the tragedy that became of Yoshimura.

Wow, what a great film. That's the best I can sum it up. Yoshimura is the perfect hero caricature, nice, well meaning, but strong, and empathetic. His flaws ignite your passion for him, his decisions admirable, if not mislead, but above all his strength of character really draws you in. Nakai is perfect in this aspect, bringing to life this lovable character, one of the more memorable I've seen in years. In contrast we have Saito, hard nosed, villainous, yet as the film progresses we gain a unique quiet insight to the man, his true feelings, and personal struggles. How he goes from hating Yoshimura to admiring him, and willing to sacrifice his life for the man.

Narratively speaking, When the Last Sword is Drawn, possesses an amazing way of telling its story. Told entirely in flashbacks, we see Yoshimura's life through two eyes. On one hand you have Saito, who only ever really knew the warrior side to Yoshimura, his strength in battle, and willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. And on the opposite spectrum you have the doctor who knows the personal side of his life. The family struggles that caused him to leave home, the costs his family had to endure, and the latter half of his life.

All told it adds up to one of the best films I've seen in a long time. Emotionally gripping, I was moved to tears, something that doesn't happen easily, on several occasions, as this characters life is told. Not to mention that the fight scenes are incredibly well done, but with the knowledge that they lay second to the story that is being told. Through these fight scenes we are given subtle insights to our two central characters, and their personal viewpoints on the world. This is escalated by the sheer power of their actors, all of which execute their roles to perfection, each one asked to display a wide range of emotions.

If there is any real flaw in the film it lies in that if you're not familiar with the overarching back story (fall of the shogun) it can be a bit confusing, but as the film progresses it becomes more clear. Really though, this is a movie you have to watch, it's a great character film through and through... definitely among the best I've seen in the 2000s.

A powerful, well shot, and executed film from beginning to end, a worthy watch for anyone.

*Note: If you can't find this film, it is available for viewing via in Japanese with English Subtitles.

1 better thoughts:

Lemmy Caution said...

I absolutely LOVE a good Samurai flick. Went to Netflix to see if they had this....and it was allready in my queue, so I bumped it up to #1. Looking forward to watching it!

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