Monday, September 18, 2006

"TASOGARE SEIBEI"
(THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI)

Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa

EIGA SAI: Contemporary Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex


Seibei Iguchi

You see the word "Samurai" in the title of a movie and naturally you would expect some menacing sword fighting action filled scenes. If you are into those type of Samurai movies then you better not stick around this film. You might get disappointed.

This film focuses on the daily existence of a low ranked Samurai named Seibei Iguchi who has been nicknamed "The Twilight Samurai". A derogatory term which signifies a frugal anti-social type of behavoir. Once his work is done he prefers to go home instead of socialising with his colleagues at entertainment houses. He is a devoted father who recently lost his wife to consumption, has 2 young daughters and a senile mother all struggling under his impoverished care. Yet he is content with his current state of affairs and never desires to go beyond his means. A hint of romance surfaces when the sister of his good friend suddenly finds herself divorced from a hapless man who maltreats her. Tomoe is a ravishing beauty who also happens to be one of Seibei's childhood friends. A lady of means far above Seibei's rank, she is like a breath of fresh air whenever she visits the Iguchi household. Yet conflicts arise which affects both their lives. Suddenly Seibei is torn between obeying the orders of his clan and his inner torment to maintain the same status quo in his life.

The film unfolds through the eyes of his daughter, Ito who narrates her father's story with such pride and joy. A very poignant tribute to the life of a simple man who had to adapt to changing times. We see her as a cute 5 year old who grows up without the proper guidance of a nurturing mother. Yet she remains as precocious and level headed as any child growing up in those ancient times in a historical period of Japan's development as a country. A period of transition where Samurais were revered right before the Meiji Restoration (the rise of the Empire and its mighty ruler, the Emperor).

This film is directed by Yoyi Yamada who is famous for his Tora San movies as well as period epics which showcases the lifestyle of the Samurai. It was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2003 Oscar Awards. I was lucky enough to have seen another Samurai film from the same director, "Hidden Blade" last year at the Cinemanila International Film Festival. I do notice a lot of similiarities in both movies with regards to his certain directing style. A technique which somehow gives me this feeling that I am watching an old black and white movie even though they are entirely in color. Scenes of their village, the flowing river, the little thatched house where Seibei and his family lived as well as the 'office' where he worked are shot in some dark tone. Minimal lighting effects perhaps to emphasize the characters more than the surroundings.

The highlight in "Twilight Samurai" would be the short fight scene sequence between Seibei and Zenemon Yogo, a Samurai retainer who battle it out in a little hut. Excellently executed, every slice of the sword pierces through your ears and your eyes are fixated on the blood that drips through their outfits. I believe that is the main turning point of this film. The defining moment in Seibei Iguchi's life not only as a Samurai but also as a man who redeems himself in society.

Hiroyuki Sanada portrays Seibei Iguchi with such firm conviction. You are really drawn towards his character. Viewers might recognize him as one of Katsumoto-San's (Ken Watanabe) main warriors in "The Last Samurai". Sanada is a big action star in Japan and has won many awards for his craft. But I was totally mesmerized by the little girl who portrayed his 5 year old daughter in the movie, she was totally adorable and very cute, you would think she was a porcelain doll.

I end by saying that sometimes it is good to watch a movie that has a firm development of characters, scenic visuals and has a solid storyline. A good period piece of an era and a tradition that has long been eradicated from the ultra modern Japanese society. Thank goodness we can still relive them through the silver screen.

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