Cast and Crew: Yoji Yamada (Director/Screenplay)
What It’s About: Sibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), is a widower raising two young daughters and caring for his senile mother, while working as a clerk in a castle storehouse. Sibei, who is of the Samurai class despite his decidedly unmartial employment, is failing to keep up appearances. He takes pleasure in raising his two daughters and his farm work, even when he spends evenings doing piece work to make ends meet. When Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), Sibei’s childhood sweetheart, divorces her abusive husband, things begin to look like they might improve for Sibei, but then he is assigned to deal with a dishonored fellow samurai who refuses to kill himself…
Why Watch it Today?: Today’s film begins just prior to the doomed Satsuma Rebellion that ended in the complete dissolution of the samurai class and the Japanese feudal system. The final battle in that conflict began late today in 1877. The Twilight Samurai gives us great insight into the life of the lowest rung of samurai during the Meiji period, while also being, quite simply, a wonderful, character driven film and a must see.
With so much of the samurai genre filled by the capacious imagination of Kurosawa, it sometimes feels like there’s not much room left for later generations of Japanese filmmakers. But this movie works itself from the sidelines right into the thick of the samurai myth, proving originality is still very possible in the genre. Great pick.
I often think of this one as a Japanese Unforgiven, in that it tries to be as historically accurate as it can while it gives a more sober view of the violence than early films in its genre and focuses on drama over action.