The Twilight Samurai is a ravishing story of love and honour among Japan's feudal warrior caste with no need for sword-slashing action sequences or half-pint westerners. Tom Cruise take note. In the closing years of the Tokugawa era, Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a low-ranking, 50-koku a year retainer who's grown tired of the samurai life after watching his wife die of consumption. Desperate to retire and swap his blade for a farmer's hoe, he's restrained by the crushing demands of debt and duty.
When childhood sweetheart Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) returns to the village, Seibei wonders if things might be about to change. She adores his children, loves him dearly, and is fending off marriage proposals in the hope that he'll ask for her hand. Burdened by a sense of his lowly status and aware that he doesn't earn enough to keep her in the lifestyle her family demands, he's too honourable to follow his heart.
"A FILM THAT REWARDS PATIENCE"
Putting Mutsuo Naganuma's gorgeously understated cinematography to excellent use, director Yoji Yamada sketches the mundane reality of life as a petty samurai - where bookkeeping and provisions storage is more important than one's skill with a blade - with careful attention to detail. Action junkies desperate for the swish of cold steel will be disappointed by the fact that this low-key period drama owes more to the talkiness of Gohatto than the slash'n'hack of Zatôichi. Yet they shouldn't be, since this is a film that rewards patience.
Yamada hones an austere yet deeply moving film that has all the serene confidence of a Zen master. Building up its central character before unleashing a climactic, close-quarter swordfight, it transforms Seibei into the real Last Samurai - a reluctant warrior cast adrift in a world that no longer comprehends the value of what he represents.
In Japanese with English subtitles.