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Boy and His Samurai, A
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by Jay Seaver

"A handsome cake-baking samurai is every family's fantasy."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: "A Boy and His Samurai" has a well-worn fantasy premise that could have very easily proceded in a very predictable fashion. However, even if the original novel it was based on did not have its time-lost samurai discovering the joys of baking, audiences still might have expected a clever, even surprising film from the director of "Fish Story" and "Golden Slumber", and that's what Yoshihiro Nakamura delivers: An off-beat and unusually mature fantasy that should still play well for a young audience.

One day, Tomoya Yusa (Fuku Suzuki) and his mother Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) spot a handsome young samurai outside a supermarket, looking very confused. Hiroko is sure that it's just an actor doing some sort of promotion, but when they encounter him again a few days later, the man - one Kijima Yasube (Ryo Nishikido) is a mess and seems very confused by the modern world. They take him in, and he eventually proves willing to adapt, helping Hiroko around the house and eventually taking an interest in making custards and pastries. Hiroko still suspects he is a confused modern man, but Kijima insists he comes from the Edo period, 180 years earlier.

Though the film's title evokes a certain genre of kid-oriented dramas and places Kijima in the position of a pet (at least according to its English-language title), the focus of A Boy and His Samurai is often less on Tomoya than Hiroko. Indeed, one might argue with a bit of a wink that the movie is as much a single mother's fantasy as it is a young boy's - what woman in Hiroko's position wouldn't want a handsome younger man whose gratitude compels him to help with the housework around? Nakamura doesn't take the movie too far in that direction, in large part because Rie Tomosaka is given that rarest sort of character to play: A single mother who, while harried and busy, is not defined by her lack of a man or guilt over not being at home more often. Even if it weren't in the script, one perhaps wouldn't be able to fault Tomosaka for playing Hiroko that way; instead, she always shows us a woman who takes pride in her achievements and enjoys both her work and home life.

That really shouldn't seem unusual, and yet the fact that Nakamura has the three main characters act in age-appropriate ways is somewhat surprising. On top of that, he seems unusually well aware that this is a movie for the entire family, as opposed to any one member - six year-old boys like Tomoya won't have to grumble about there being too much kissing or innuendo, while the grown-ups can breathe a sigh of relief that the movie is not loaded up with rude noises because that's the only sort of joke an adult screenwriter can imagine a kid liking. It's smartly written, with none of the relationships in the movie ever striking a false note.

It's also genuinely and warmly funny; Ryo Nishikido does the stranger in a strange land thing well, making a smooth transition from blustery confusion to odd adaptation. Nishikido never confuses "inexperienced" with "stupid", which makes both his frustration and success more palpable and amusing, and has the occasional great deadpan reminder that, no matter how much he's adapted, he's still a samurai. He actually plays things rather straight during some of the more broadly-comedic scenes, allowing Nakamura to milk humor from both the incongruity of an Edo-era samurai in the middle of a pastry-baking competition and from the frequent absurdity of the competition itself.

The name and basic plot of this movie will likely have the audience prepared for zaniness, and don't misunderstand, it is pretty off-the-wall at times. More often, though, it's a smart and sympathetic film that's able to entertain audiences of all ages while still respecting and understanding them, a rare and precious thing indeed.

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originally posted: 07/12/11 06:34:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yoshihiro Nakamura

Written by
  Yoshihiro Nakamura

  Ryo Nishikido
  Rie Tomosaka
  Fuku Suzuki
  Hiroki Konno

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