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4 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Twilight Samurai, The
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by Brian McKay

"Samurai Family Values (or perhaps, Samurai values family)"
5 stars

I've been a fan of Samurai movies since the day my dad took me to see SHOGUN ASSASSIN at the tender age of fourteen. I was too young and impressionable to see that masterpiece of flashing steel and arterial spray, and we both damn well knew it. So, with the usual understanding that mom was never to be told about this cinematic outing, we went to see it and we both loved it.

I suppose a blood-splattered Samurai movie hardly seems an appropriate venue for father-son bonding, just like a Samurai movie hardly seems the appropriate genre for telling a moving story about familial values. Yet TWILIGHT SAMURAI does just that by giving us a humble family man protagonist who goes against the grain of the stereotypical Samurai archetype.

Far from a cool-handed and stoical killing machine, like SHOGUN ASSASSIN's Ogami Itto (Wakayama Tomisaburo), the hero of TWILIGHT SAMURAI is a Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada of THE LAST SAMURAI), a humble clerk and loving family man whose face lights up whenever he talks about his adorable daughters, ten year old Kayana (Miki Ito), and five-year-old Ito (Erina Hasaguchi). After consistently declining his fellow Samurai's exhortations to go drinking after work, he is nicknamed "The Twilight Samurai" because he rushes home at dusk every day to care for his daughters, as well as his aging and senile mother (Reiko Kusamura). Despite having lost their mother to consumption, the girls are happy and secure in their home life. But the going is not easy for the Iguchi family, since Seibei's position is a humble one, and he owes money for his wife's medical care and subsequent funeral.

But things take a turn for the brighter when an old friend named Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) returns from serving in Kyoto. He tells Seibei that his younger sister (and Seibei's childhood friend), Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), is now living with him after being divorced from her abusive ex-husband, who she was given to in an arranged marriage. No sooner does Seibei return home, than he finds the beautiful Tomoe on his doorstep. From the moment that Seibei and Tomoe encounter each other, two things are instantly apparent - they are, and always have been, in love with each other, but Seibei is too ashamed of his lowly status to believe himself worthy of Tomoe, who comes from a wealthy family. Nevertheless, Tomoe spends more and more time in the humble Iguchi home, becoming a loving surrogate mother to Seibei's daughters and hoping that Seibei will take the hint and ask for her hand.

But this wouldn't be a true Samurai movie without a little bit of ass-kicking, and when Tomoe's jealous ex-husband shows up looking for trouble, Seibei gives it to him in defense of Tomoe's honor. But when he defeats the ex-husband's sword by beating him down with a wooden practice stick, Seibei's fame as a swordsman begins to spread. Soon, he is expected to use his impressive, but rusty, sword fighting skills to his clan's advantage.

But there is a dual meaning to the title of THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI, because Seibei's story takes place near the end of the Edo period, just before the Meiji restoration that effectively ends the reign of the Samurai. Seibei knows that these are the Samurai's last days, and embraces the chance to leave his Samurai status behind and pursue a peaceful life as a farmer. He fights, and kills, only because he must - whether to defend Tomoe, or carry out the rigid orders of his clan. As he says to Tomoe before a duel, "I may be a petty Samurai . . . but I'm still a Samurai."

THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI is a refreshing take on the genre, allowing us to see the softer side of the Samurai. Sanada is brilliant in the titular role, bringing a wellspring of emotional depth and steadfastness to the persona of Seibei. Miyazawa gives us a Tomoe who is adorable and delicate, yet surprisingly resilient and strong-willed. The supporting cast is equally admirable, and everyone does their part to give THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI a rich tapestry of both comedic and dramatic performances. And while the film isn't an action piece, it still gives us two exciting and well-staged duels that rival anything seen in its more generic predecessors.

More than anything, THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI is a simple but moving tale of a man who loves his family, but must balance that love against the demands of his station. Not to be missed by Samurai movie fans - or anyone else, for that matter.

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originally posted: 05/23/05 16:05:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/14 jeanne Love it so much, had to buy the DVD. Gorgeous cinematography, beautiful story. 5 stars
5/18/08 paul evans watched it tonight for the eighth time, rates as a superb movie.It is in my top 10 movies o 5 stars
5/13/06 Monster W. Kung Excellent. Makes "The Last Samurai" look like the rubbish it is. 5 stars
5/23/05 y2mckay Comedy, drama, romance, 2 great duels, and an excellent cast. Beautiful. 5 stars
3/23/05 john wallace Outstanding!!! 5 stars 5 stars
2/17/05 Maria A. Cabrera Wonderful! Just Wonderful! 5 stars
1/01/05 DM Slow at times, but it leaves a strong impression. 4 stars
11/22/04 neil maedel touching and very well made - aflick for the romantic 5 stars
7/12/04 Jeff Peden Unexpected, but very good 4 stars
3/17/04 Zeynep Görpe One of the best japanese movies that I have seen.. 5 stars
3/14/04 Lawrence Washington In all truth I wasn't expecting this type of movie, but I was completely satisfied with it. 5 stars
3/04/04 Larisa Zimmerman This movie is wonderful. I recommend it highly. 5 stars
2/22/04 K This is the real samurai movie. 5 stars
2/16/04 Patrick Donnelly A beautiful, intelligent, moving film 5 stars
2/10/04 bmwracer An excellent film worthy of its awards. 5 stars
2/04/04 Rob A great film. You may also want to consider When the Last Sword is Drawn... 4 stars
1/23/04 Pon If you are move, you must be without heart. 5 stars
1/08/04 Peter Lew A beautiful story and majestically photographed. 4 stars
12/06/03 Ken schisumarei 5 stars
12/04/03 Minh T. It's riveting film making 5 stars
11/11/03 peter k. unique perspective of the samurai 4 stars
11/11/03 Paul Honda Superior 5 stars
11/08/03 alex hatton better than sliced bread 5 stars
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  DVD: 28-Dec-2004



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