TWILIGHT SAMURAI (a.k.a. Tasogare Seibei 2002) is based on the novel by Shuhei Fijisawa and is directed by Yoji Yamada who was achieved fame for his Tora-san series in Japan. This acclaimed film is a return to contemporary samurai film-making and quite frankly it is one of the best I've seen. This is the first of Yamada's chambara period drama; The second being the award-winning "Hidden Blade" and the third being 2006's "Love and Honor", both of which I will review separately.
A petty low-ranking samurai named Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a struggling retainer and widower. He is a 50 koku samurai with two daughters and a senile mother. Seibei has been given the nickname "Sir Twilight" because after his duties as a simple clerk in the clan is completed, he hurries home to take care of his kids and moonlights as a maker of bird cages. During the last days of the Edo period, the last days of the age of the samurai are almost over, duels are forbidden and the sword is no longer as much as an object of respect as it used to be.
However, things take a turn when an old friend and his sister Tomoe (Beautiful Rie Miyazawa) returns to live in the village. Tomoe is a divorced young woman to whom Seibei always kept close to his heart. Seibei and Tomoe have always been good friends since childhood but destiny has always kept them apart. Now, political strife has caused Seibei to undergo a dangerous task to take down a rogue retainer named Zenemon Yogo. On the eve of the duel, he asks Tomoe to become his wife, he discovers that she had already accepted a wedding engagement. Disappointed, he leaves at the hour of the snake for his mission...
The delight of watching "Twilight Samurai" is its excellent storytelling. Yoji Yamada's excellent direction is truly awe-inspiring and with the film's very lush cinematography that complements the film's mood and screenplay, the film is a true piece of art. The film is the touching story of a man who is an outcast in changing times. While most chambara films deal with loyalty, honor and purpose; this film has another important element that works in its favor, Love.
What I really liked about this film is that it is very easy to follow, no background in Japanese history is needed to feel involved in the proceedings. It is pure delight as the story unfolds, and while the story may be simple; the way the film is structured makes for a very satisfying experience.
The key to the film's success is; of course how good the performers are in their portrayal of their characters. Seibei and Tomoe's characters are well developed and interesting. Seibei is a humble hard-working everyday man; his character is so easy to connect with. Sanada effectively expresses all the needed emotions in his portrayal. Another key character is Tomoe; for without her, the development of the story and the lead character will not be achieved. Rie Miyasawa's performance is as superb as her simple beauty. Seibei finds new purpose in Tomoe, in her, he sees a turning point in his life and finally he may live as he always wished to. The characters are so alive that viewers will easily find an attachment to them.
"Twilight Samurai" is a plot-driven film. (I will probably say this in all my reviews for Yamada's chambara dramas) People who are expecting blood-splattering swordplay is better off watching Ryuhei Kitamura's Azumi and Aragami which are classified as Jidai Geki. Chambara films tend to lean more towards human drama and emotion. Not to say that, this film doesn't have a decent sword fight, there are actually two, which are well executed and beautifully shot. Both sword duels are realistic and the last one is bloody, no wires or trampolines were used. The first one in which Seibei disables an opponent with a wooden sword exemplifies his prowess even with his humble social status. The lack in action scenes may turn off action fanatics but those looking for a truly excellent and touching tale of the samurai will be VERY pleased.
This is truly a well-crafted and amazing samurai film. We all associate "samurai" with "blood splattering" swordfights, but "Twilight Samurai" will not be remembered by that one factor. The film is a rare treat for chambara aficionados. With its beautiful cinematography, well-developed story with well-rounded characters for balance; Yoji Yamada's "Twilight Samurai" is a historical chambara film from Japan that will leave a lasting impression to chambara fans, it is a film to be admired for years to come.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [5- Stars]
VIDEO/AUDIO: 1.78 Anamorphic Widescreen. The Japanese region-2 release is the one to get if you can play DVDs from other countries. The transfer and sound are superior to the U.S. release. I own this release because it is the uncut version.
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The Twilight Samurai is a 2002 Japanese film directed by Yoji Yamada. Set in mid-19th century Japan, a few years before the Meiji Restoration, it follows the life of Seibei Iguchi, a low-ranking samurai employed as a bureaucrat. Poor, but not destitute, he still manages to lead a content and happy life with his daughters and senile mother. Sadly, through an unfortunate turn of events, the turbulent times conspire against him.
The film is different from many other samurai-themed films in that it concentrates on showing the main character's everyday struggles, instead of focusing on action-oriented battles.
The Twilight Samurai was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards, losing to the French Canadian (Québec) film Les Invasions Barbares. The Twilight Samurai also won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.