Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei)

In an era where movie battles rage for honour and dignity, a la The Last Samurai, Japan’s Foreign Film Oscar-Nominee Twilight Samurai comes as a sweet surprise—an antidote, if you will, to the big Hollywood epic war movies that beg for Oscar recognition.

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Director: Yôji Yamada

Actors: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa

Year: 2002

MPAA Rating: NR

Country: United States

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It is the 1860s, the samurai are now practicing using guns as well as swords, and the empire is in disarray. Simply put, Edo Japan is nearing the end of the samurai’s era. In a countryside prefecture, we are introduced to Seibei Iguchi, a petty-class samurai, whose wife has died of consumption, leaving him with two young daughters to raise, and a senile elderly mother to care for. Seibei is jokingly (and rather meanly) dubbed “Twilight Seibei” because he dutifully goes home at dusk rather than going out and drinking with the other men. He is a poor modest man, but in a nice twist, he really doesn’t mind. Seibei admits he loves watching his children grow, and he looks forward to the demise of the samurai, so that maybe he can be a farmer instead.

Twilight Samurai is a suprisingly gentle and sweet drama. Initially the samurai are treated with a playful humor, and Seibei is often the brunt of jokes, though he doesn’t particularly care. His heart is at home, and you think with his dead wife. But Seibei is surprised to find himself drawn to a childhood girlfriend who has recently divorced. Their instant family is about as charming as you can get.

But things can never last. When word spreads that pacifist Seibei actually has some skill with a sword, he is sent on an assassination mission which he initially refuses. But a docile samurai in a crumbling empire still has his honor. He reluctantly takes the assignment. The inevitable face-off with the renegade samurai (that is pretty much a requirement for a samurai film) is probably one of the most outstanding scenes of two battling warriors accepting their face, first with dignity, then with desperation.

Except for some violence towards the end of the film (that hits the audience more emotionally than visually) Twilight Samurai turns out to be a rather nice family film. Quiet and patient Seibei is as lovely a father figure as you’ll find in any film, and his family’s pride and love radiates off the screen. You can’t help but root for this family to stay together, even for a short while.

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