Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Twilight Samurai (2002)


Following the death of his wife, a poorly Samurai, Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), who works as an accountant for his clan, must be all members of the family to his two young daughters, and his senile mother. Without time to bath, and no women willing to marry into his problems, Iguchi is the laughing stock of his clan, which is slowly moving towards the modern use of guns as opposed to samurai for battles. Things start to get better for Iguchi though when his childhood friend, and long time love, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), returns following a nasty divorce with her drunk of a husband.

As I'm making my way through Samurai films as I try to become a bit more of an expert on them, I found myself running into lots of praise for this quiet 2002 film. And quiet is exactly what this movie is. Subtle, unassuming, and yet beautifully shot, The Twilight Samurai is an easy film to get into, filled with moments that bring out all the spectrum of emotions. Perhaps better yet, Sanda (best known to Americans for his role in The Last Samurai), is wonderfully perfect in the role as the quiet male who is the perfect example of what the film intends to be. The relationship between him and Tomoe is wonderfully unemotional, in that our two characters are so reserved they keep it all so hidden for fear of social and romantic backlash due to their pasts.

This aids a finale that really manages to put both a smile on your face and a tear in your eye, supported by an amazing battle between Iguchi and a local retainer he's forced to kill. In fact, the battles in this film are quite amazing. There's only two of them, and for the films entire 2 hour runtime they probably take up about 5 minutes (the first being incredibly short). Instead the film opts for emotional conversation, build up, and character study to sustain its entire playing time. This is both a strength and a weakness. The buildup allows us to really fall in love with the characters, cheer for them, and wish their success in life. Yet since our characters are so reserved, so time dependent, their actions are like clockwork, leaving several scenes of feet tapping as we wait for the next plot point to occur.

Yet none of this is an exceptionally bad thing. Those seeking a wonderful character study will find their appetite well appeased, while those seeking action might want to flip that channel changer. Yamada's talent for creating strong characters within in a time where it would be looked down upon elevates the film above genre conventions. The final battle is not over a woman (if you remove the metaphorical aspect), but rather a battle between two men with everything, and at the same time nothing, to lose. Poetic, beautiful, and great, The Twilight Samurai is a samurai film for those seeking characters, not action.

An amazing character study, filled with emotion, and poetic beauty, The Twilight Samurai is a staple to everything the Samurai film can be when removed of its action crutch.

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