This week I came across the Japanese film, The Twilight Samurai whilst browsing through Netflix. When I saw The Twilight Samurai under the ‘critically acclaimed’ section, I thought to myself “hmmm…how did this film slip under my J-film radar?” The last J-film I saw was at the Leeds International Film Festival called Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる, Soshite Chichi ni Naru) and it was truly amazing (I’ll do a film review of that soon), not knowing what to expect, I decided to diligently watch The Twilight Samurai.
One who is a samurai must before all things keep in mind, by day, and by night, the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business -The Bushido Code.
The Twilight Samurai is set in ancient Japan during the Meiji Restoration period. The story follows Iguchi Seibi, although a samurai by status, his ‘nine to five’ job is not spent in battle but rather spent in an accounting office, keeping track of dried fish and other foods in storage as he lives under the rule of his samurai clan. Recalling her father’s life with great affection the film is narrated by Seibei’s oldest daughter, who is young in the film but the narration is of an old lady.
Rather than seeing Seibei sword practicing, director Yoji Yamada, shows Seibei in many scenes, unenthusiastically hunched over a pile of papers, on all occasions declining an invitation by his colleagues to go out drinking. However, Seibei has other things on his mind, debt incurred after the death of his wife, a senile mother and two, young school age daughters.
Yoji Yamada has done a commendable job in setting the story in what seems like a harmonious village in feudal Japan. The entire film truly captivates the viewer’s mind by bringing to life the architecture, customs, ancient values, and even the economy of the era in which this film is so aesthetically placed. The extent of the financial hardship experienced by the people is touchingly choreographed, children starved to death, whose bodies are shown drifting down the river, furthermore, what kind of a samurai has to sell his sword and make do with a bamboo as a replacement?
After working all day in the office, Seibei rushes home to plough the land to feed his family and makes bamboo cages with his daughters, in the bid to earn extra cash. One day the senior member of the clan (a lord) comes to inspect the food stores, in which Seibei is working, he gets a whiff of Seibei’s odour, and reminds him how as a samurai he must set an example to the peasants; at this point I really did feel sorry for Seibei, because at this point he has become a very strong and likeable character. The word goes around and as such brings disgrace on the family name, which compels Seibei’s stern maternal uncle to pay him a visit insisting him to remarry, since it was a wife’s duty to cater for her husband’s needs which included doing the laundry.
Later, in a beautiful yet slightly uncomfortable fishing scene, Seibei’s best friend informs him how he would like him to marry his divorced sister Tomoe (victim of domestic abuse from her alcoholic husband) who happens to be Seibei’s childhood love interest.
Tomoe starts visiting the house more often and helps with the chores. Seibei’s daughters instantly bond with her, filling the void of a maternal love, but Seibei is shy and cannot imagine remarrying, yet alone think of marrying a woman of a higher status than him.
Sebei received his sword training from a renowned samurai teacher, bearing this in mind; the clan comes to him with a deadly assignment to kill a disobedient samurai, Yogo. Samurais would show respect and allegiance to their clan by giving up their lives when faced with defeat, however when Yogo was asked to take his own life, he did not concur. The clan saw this as very disrespectful, thus wanting Yogo dead. So after failed attempts of killing Yogo, Seibei is bribed and blackmailed into taking on the assignment.
The closing part of the film is simply exceptional, and the ending dialogues are among the best I’ve ever heard. Obviously I won’t tell you how the final part of the film pans out, but what I will say is that it certainly isn’t predictable.
After going through this review, I feel it has failed to tell how amazing this piece of cinema actually is, so the only way to experience it’s brilliance is to sit back, put your feet up and let the film take you in to the world of the samurai. I’m leaving you with two things; one, the hope that you will watch it and two, the film trailer.