“You can always die. It’s living that takes real courage.”
The Twilight Samurai is a very honest movie and is regarded as one of the best samurai films. Inspired by the short story The Bamboo Sword by Shuhei Fujisawa, this film is directed by master veteran Yoji Yamada, who is also known for writer-director of Japan’s extremely popular “Tora-San” series (1969-96). Made in 2002, this was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards, Japan’s first in twenty two years, losing to the French Canadian (Québec) film Les Invasions Barbares. The Twilight Samurai, received various accolades and won 12 Japanese Academy Awards (an all-time record), is Yamada’s career milestone. With more than half a decade of his life as a film-maker, Yoji Yamada is still a man for all seasons.
If you look at samurai films, starting from silent days and continuing through their 1950s peak, period films with top-knotted heroes typically featured larger than life milieu flashing swords and the occasional firearm. Especially in the early days, both actors and audiences were skewed young. In recent years, however, the genre has taken a more settled, nonviolent turn. Instead of a swordsman slicing opponents by the dozens, the protagonist is a bookkeeper, as in Bushi no Kakeibo (Abacus and Sword); an astronomer, as in Tenchi Meisatsu (Tenchi: Samurai Astronomer); or a cook, as in Bushi no Kondate (A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story) to name a few.
Yoji Yamada happens to be a catalyst to set the trend of bringing realism in samurai stories with The Twilight Samurai, the film chronicles the story of clan clerk Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) in the 19th century Japan of the nascent Meiji era. The passage of Siebei’s life from the point of an unfortunate death of his wife carries a spotless maven, who defies the norms of being an unflinchingly loyal, ruthless and cold blooded samurai; Yamada tries to establish the more incomprehensible side of the samurai through their vulnerability and fundamentals in there nature and ultimately decline of samurai class with the changing world
After Siebei’s wife succumbing to tuberculosis, he support his family consisting of two little daughter and his senile old mother and lives a quiet life, In order to make ends meet, he works as an accountant/clan clerk and his family is the only thing in his life that he cares about. Quiet modest of his duty, works long hours and not paying much attention to his personal self, also becomes the source of disgust to his friends and family, and his twitched with a nickname Tasogare (Twilight Samurai).
Siebei dodges his angry uncle’s request to prompt his second marriage. Beyond it all this is a love story about a true samurai. Siebei’s selfless modesty and loyalty is a thing of record. He is unreal with his style in doing the right thing and sticking to the path. As soon, Siebei runs into his childhood love Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), the first girl he ever loved and a lifelong friend of his. Married earlier to a wealthy samurai captain Koda, Tomoe though would have parted out of her marriage with her man because of his physical torture and extreme mental abusiveness fall in love with Seibel. Just as fortune upholds, Tomoe is the favourite of his two little girls and Siebel trusts that he cannot give her happiness because of his social status as he is too self-critical accepting his marriage to Tomoe.
The turn of events alter when Koda charge into the house of Michinojo (brother of Tomoe) in the middle of night in a drunken state claim his ownership of Tomoe and challenges Siebei and therefore he accepts a duel with the captain hoping to put a stop to the abuse. The odds are unlikely against Siebei, and especially among the same clan, the clash amongst clan members is strictly forbidden. The penalty is usually death for the winner as the loser is already dead. Siebei decides to use only a wooden stick whilst Koda brandishes a steel katana overcomes Koda, sparing both their lives.
The legend of the master swordsman Twilight Siebei spreads throughout the land and his attempts at modestly demeaning his knowledge fall on deaf ears. Michinojo invites Siebei to marry his sister; distinctly he drops the offer down because of his insecurity. Tomoe is also let down with Siebei’s attitude and slowly stops visiting Siebei’s two daughters.
The final act however arrives as the head of Seibei’s clan, having heard of his prowess with a sword, orders Siebei to kill a samurai retainer, Yogo who is disowned and dogged to resign his post by committing seppuku/harakiri or a ritual suicide and on the background of the civil war, there is a succession struggle after the young lord of the clan dies of measles. However Yogo in his power hunger has to confront Siebei. In the interim, he expresses regret with Tomoe for his neglect with heavy heart and promises his return after his final battle with Yogo.
The fight is a major highlight of the movie with Siebei’s kodachi fight is matched up against Yogo’s ittō-ryū (single long sword) swordsmanship in an intense close quarters duel. In the face of allowing Yogo to slash him several times, Siebei kills Yogo when his longer sword gets caught in the rafters. Notwithstanding his wounds, Siebei limps home. His two daughters rush to him in the courtyard, joyful to see him. Tomoe is nearby waiting in the house. They have an emotional reunion and are married.
The film ends with a brief epilogue set many years later, Siebei’s younger daughter, now middle-age, visits the grave of Siebei and Tomoe. Narrating, she explains that their happiness was not to last before her father died three years ago in the Boshin War, supposed to be Japan’s last civil war. Remembering her father had no ambition to become anything special and his unconditional love for his two daughters and was loved by the beautiful Tomoe…….
The pacing is immaculate and top right performance by all the cast especially Hiroyuki Sanada as Siebei and his reasons to believe the love of life through his daughters eyes is out-and-out a visual phenomenon and Miyazawa is wonderful as Tomoe. Her plight is believable and almost too real at times and she makes for a remarkably sympathetic character. The life of Siebei and his family are visually tangible through the layer and illustrating those uncertainties of everyday routine utilizing its length to develop natural relationships between the social characters and on the other side is Siebei’s combative risk distinguishes his skill leading to an outcome merge through flawless interplay, narrative clarity and eventual peace
I still don’t know why the Samurai genre keeps fascinating me over and over again and can’t get enough of it frankly
- Written & Directed by Yoji Yamada
- Co-written by Shuhei Fujisawa & Yoshitaka Asama
- Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada & Rie Miyazawa
- Music by Isao Tomita
- Distributed by Shochiku Company & Empire Pictures
- Release date: November 2, 2002
- Run time of 129 min.
- Country: Japan
- Language: Japanese