Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei)


In 1860's Northwest Japan, a '50 koku' samurai who has just lost his wife to consumption struggles to support two young daughters and a mother with Alzheimer's. Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada, "The Last Samurai," "Ringu") works all day administering to his lordship's provisions, but hurries home at dusk, refusing to have a drink with his colleagues. Behind his back, his coworkers call him the "Twilight Samurai." Laura: The title, of course, also refers to the end of the Edo period, the same era recently featured in the Tom Cruise vehicle, "The Last Samurai." Hiroyuki Sanada impressed in that film as Cruise's combative instructor, but this film should make him an international star. The stage is set by narrator Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), Seibei's five-year old daughter, who never got to know her mother, but clearly adores her dad. Yet he brings shame upon the family when the lord notices his unkempt robes and body odor. Seibei works so hard, including farming for his family, that he neglects himself. This brings a visit from Great Uncle, who offers Seibei an ugly bride and makes his sister, the girls' grandmother, cry. Seibei refuses the offer and admits to his astonished and delighted daughters that he does not like his uncle. Seibei's good friend Michinojo Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) suggests becoming an emperor's guard in Kyoto, but Seibei is not an ambitious man. More importantly, Seibei discovers that Iinuma's sister, his childhood love Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa, "47 Ronin"), has divorced her high-ranking samurai husband. Amusingly, when Tomoe appears at his home, Seibei's mother, who fails to recognize her own son, knows Tomoe immediately. Tomoe's emergence, besides beginning a beautiful love story, sparks the first of Seibei's two great challenges. One night she returns to her brother's home late and finds her drunken, abusive husband there. Seibei protects her and is challenged to a duel, which is forbidden by samurai law. He gets around this by fighting Koda with only a wooden practice stick. Iinuma gently suggests that Seibei marry Tomoe, but Seibei refuses, believing that she needs the wealth of a 400 koku samurai (his own wife, used to a 150 koku lifestyle, could never adjust to his lowly 50). Tomoe, who has become part of Seibei's family life, ceases her visits. His reputation having grown from beating Koda with only a wooden stick, Seibei is assigned to assassinate Yoho (Min Tanaka), a renegade Samurai. Tomoe, now unrecognized by his mother, appears to prepare Seibei for battle, convinced that he will not return. Cowriter (with Yoshitaka Asama)/Director Yoji Yamada is well known in Japan for directing 46 of the 48 contemporary Tora-San series, but this divergence into period garnered him a 2003 Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination (this film is far more worthy than the eventual winner) and twelve Japanese Academy Awards. The film is not a flashy visual piece (shot in 1:85:1 aspect ratio by cinematographer Mutsuo Naganuma), although the final battle is quite stylish with its short and long swords crosshatched against vertical wooden slats. Instead, "Twilight Samurai" focuses on telling a wonderful story with complex characters, beautifully acted. Although it takes place in the 1860's, Seibei and Tomoe's problems are quite modern. He is a single parent struggling with both child and elder care who is forced to take unwanted tasks on the job. She is the victim of an abusive marriage who has made the decision to get out of it. Tomoe's character represents the next era. She has a forward thinking way of viewing the present, commenting at a peasants' festival (which samurai were forbidden to attend) that it was the peasants that made the samurai possible. Hiroyuki Sanada is outstanding in the lead role, a humble man willing to work hard for a simple life. His highly sympathetic portrayal is augmented by his physical abilities in the swordplay scenes and a depth of acting that allows myriad emotions to play over his face in the matter of seconds. Also good is Rie Miyazawa as the gentle Tomoe. It's been a while since two actors made me care so much about their characters getting together. Mitsuru Fukikoshi displays great warmth and tact as Seibei's friend, Tomoe's brother. Apple-cheeked Erina Hashiguchi is adorable as little Ito. "Twilight Samurai" is an unconventional look at a bygone way of life. Yoji Yamada has delivered a timeless film, rooted both in past and present. A


Laura's Review: A

The title, of course, also refers to the end of the Edo period, the same era recently featured in the Tom Cruise vehicle, "The Last Samurai." Hiroyuki Sanada impressed in that film as Cruise's combative instructor, but this film should make him an international star. The stage is set by narrator Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), Seibei's five-year old daughter, who never got to know her mother, but clearly adores her dad. Yet he brings shame upon the family when the lord notices his unkempt robes and body odor. Seibei works so hard, including farming for his family, that he neglects himself. This brings a visit from Great Uncle, who offers Seibei an ugly bride and makes his sister, the girls' grandmother, cry. Seibei refuses the offer and admits to his astonished and delighted daughters that he does not like his uncle. Seibei's good friend Michinojo Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) suggests becoming an emperor's guard in Kyoto, but Seibei is not an ambitious man. More importantly, Seibei discovers that Iinuma's sister, his childhood love Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa, "47 Ronin"), has divorced her high-ranking samurai husband. Amusingly, when Tomoe appears at his home, Seibei's mother, who fails to recognize her own son, knows Tomoe immediately. Tomoe's emergence, besides beginning a beautiful love story, sparks the first of Seibei's two great challenges. One night she returns to her brother's home late and finds her drunken, abusive husband there. Seibei protects her and is challenged to a duel, which is forbidden by samurai law. He gets around this by fighting Koda with only a wooden practice stick. Iinuma gently suggests that Seibei marry Tomoe, but Seibei refuses, believing that she needs the wealth of a 400 koku samurai (his own wife, used to a 150 koku lifestyle, could never adjust to his lowly 50). Tomoe, who has become part of Seibei's family life, ceases her visits. His reputation having grown from beating Koda with only a wooden stick, Seibei is assigned to assassinate Yoho (Min Tanaka), a renegade Samurai. Tomoe, now unrecognized by his mother, appears to prepare Seibei for battle, convinced that he will not return. Cowriter (with Yoshitaka Asama)/Director Yoji Yamada is well known in Japan for directing 46 of the 48 contemporary Tora-San series, but this divergence into period garnered him a 2003 Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination (this film is far more worthy than the eventual winner) and twelve Japanese Academy Awards. The film is not a flashy visual piece (shot in 1:85:1 aspect ratio by cinematographer Mutsuo Naganuma), although the final battle is quite stylish with its short and long swords crosshatched against vertical wooden slats. Instead, "Twilight Samurai" focuses on telling a wonderful story with complex characters, beautifully acted. Although it takes place in the 1860's, Seibei and Tomoe's problems are quite modern. He is a single parent struggling with both child and elder care who is forced to take unwanted tasks on the job. She is the victim of an abusive marriage who has made the decision to get out of it. Tomoe's character represents the next era. She has a forward thinking way of viewing the present, commenting at a peasants' festival (which samurai were forbidden to attend) that it was the peasants that made the samurai possible. Hiroyuki Sanada is outstanding in the lead role, a humble man willing to work hard for a simple life. His highly sympathetic portrayal is augmented by his physical abilities in the swordplay scenes and a depth of acting that allows myriad emotions to play over his face in the matter of seconds. Also good is Rie Miyazawa as the gentle Tomoe. It's been a while since two actors made me care so much about their characters getting together. Mitsuru Fukikoshi displays great warmth and tact as Seibei's friend, Tomoe's brother. Apple-cheeked Erina Hashiguchi is adorable as little Ito. "Twilight Samurai" is an unconventional look at a bygone way of life. Yoji Yamada has delivered a timeless film, rooted both in past and present.