LOVE AND HONOR (a.k.a. Bushi No Ichibun) is the third chambara period film by Yoji Yamada. After the two award-winning samurai films by this acclaimed director, the expectations for his third and last samurai film is extremely high. Thankfully, Yamada once again delivers; "Love and Honor" has won numerous film awards, cementing the director's status as one of the best chambara directors of the modern age. "Twilight Samurai", "Hidden Blade" and "Love and Honor" have different storylines and characters, they all share the same ideals of the samurai code: Honor, Duty and Loyalty. Also, the three films have an ace in their sleeves; Family and Responsibility.
Synopsis derived from the region-3 DVD back cover:
It is only a short time after Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is appointed to the post of food taster that he goes blind after a shellfish that brings on food poisoning is a accidentally put into a lunch for the Lord of the Clan.
Until this time Shinnojo, as a lower-ranked samurai has lived a thrifty but happy life with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan). However, the fact is that Shinnojo is unable to work in the castle any longer. Kayo is told to approach the domain's Head clerk, Toya Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando), and ask him to use his good offices in having Shinnojo's stipend maintained. In return, he has demanded her body. Out of anger and despair, Shinnojo divorces her. Eventually Shinnojo learns the truth. Shimada merely took his pleasure with Kayo; not one word did he say about how Shinnojo was to be treated to the Lord. Shinnojo cannot stand it a moment longer. He challenges Shimado to a duel.
Once again, this film explores the reality of corrupt authority figures in feudal Japan. At first impression, I thought; "Blind Samurai? Is this a Zatoichi rip-off?!" But no, the film sidesteps that impression and the director has put together an involving tale of human inner strength and heroism. Not just from Mimura's character, but also from Kayo's character. While the first two films are partly a tale of love forbidden by social status, Yamada now explores the relationship of a petty samurai with his devoted wife. This is a welcome approach, as it is a very admirable effort that also delves into the loyalty and devotion of the Japanese wife during feudal times. After all, I remember the old adage; "Behind every great man is a great woman". People may argue that Kayo's character was indeed confused, that the steps she took were totally unnecessary. However, I believe the director wanted to express the desperation of those wives during that period. Believe me, women during those days were extremely devoted to their husband. I am happy to say that besides focusing on the samurai ideals, it also focuses on the strength of the Japanese woman. The film leans toward the character study of the lead characters as well as a period study of feudal Japan.
The film's proceedings and cinematography are similar to its two predecessors. The film is beautiful to watch and the way it is structured and paced is remarkable. True, the film may get a bit predictable in the middle but it is to the director's and the cast's credit that viewers will not even lose a tiny bit of interest. There is one swordfight in the film so this third chambara film may disappoint those looking for highly fast-paced swordplay. Some people may also argue that even a skilled samurai without his sight would be helpless against another swordsman, but the way the duel was choreographed and executed was very convincing. It is very realistic and follows the style in swordplay in the previous two chapters.
Aside from Yamada's excellent direction, the cast gives an excellent performance. Takuya Kimura has definitely matured in his acting abilities. It is difficult to play a handicapped role, let alone one who is a blind swordsman. Kimura thoroughly expresses the suppressed anger and frustration in the sequences. His performance in the duel was very convincing that I felt his fear and determination when he clashed with his opponent. The duel may be short but it had so much emotional impact that I was immersed in the footage. Rie Dan truly fit the character of the disadvantaged wife. As with the two lead female characters in "Twilight Samurai" and "Hidden Blade", she had the warm charisma that surely represents the simple devoted wife during the Edo Period. Yoji Yamada seems to always find the right performers for the right role.
Yoji Yamada has once again proven that he isn't a "one-hit wonder". I hope that this will not be the last chambara film he directs. While all three films have the common denominators (samurai ideals) that link them together, there are subtle details in all three of his samurai films whose messages cannot be ignored. "Twilight Samurai" expresses humility and family, "Hidden Blade" expresses commitment and choices, "Love and Honor" effectively expresses devotion and forgiveness; all because of the power of LOVE. Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy is truly FANTASTIC!!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4 ½ +Stars]
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