The end of an era takes an era to end in Yojiro Takita's torturously overlong samurai epic, When The Last Sword Is Drawn. Kiichi Nakai stars as Kanichiro Yoshimura, a clan-hopping warrior who deserts his master to take up arms with the Shinsengumi, a fearsome band of samurai. A country bumpkin but a great swordsman, Yoshimura's money-grubbing ways encourage the hatred of chief rival Hajime Saito (Koichi Sato) - until they fight side by side during the battles of the Meiji Restoration in late 19th-century Japan.
Returning to the same period as Yoji Yamada's superior tale of honour and duty Twilight Samurai, When The Last Sword Is Drawn continues the resurrection of Japanese cinema's "jidai-geki" films - historical epics with equal parts drama and swordplay. Yojiro Takita's film certainly doesn't neglect the latter, delivering plenty of bloodstained blades (the highlight is a hari-kari ritual that goes wrong, resulting in an enforced and graphic decapitation). Privileging brute force as much as skill, the battles here are scrappy, brutal duels that fuel Yoshimura's understandable desire "Not to die, but to live".
"RARELY WORKS AS A HISTORY LESSON OR A DRAMA"
Reinterpreting the bushido code, Yoshimura's last samurai is a lone wolf who's more interested in looking after his cubs than laying down his life for any of the multitude of masters trying to seize power. Desperate to save his wife and children from starvation, Yoshimura has little interest in traditional loyalty - he knows that era is already gone.
Honed down to such essentials, When The Last Sword could have been a fantastic samurai tale about the years of upheaval that catapulted Japan into the modern world. It rarely works as a history lesson or a drama, though, since this adaptation of Jiro Asada's bestselling novel is such an unruly, undisciplined beast. Running far too long, with multiple narrators, flashbacks within flashbacks and a storyline that encourages confusion not clarity, When The Last Sword errs too often on the side of dull sentimentality - making it a wearisome way of the warrior.
In Japanese with English subtitles