Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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If ever a samurai film could be called a chick flick, this is the one. Although the fight choreography is excellent (there are two duels), The Twilight Samurai is a movie about emotions and talking about how you feel.

Twilight is a slow, thoughtful, and kind samurai movie
Twilight is a slow, thoughtful, and kind samurai movie

Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a low-ranking samurai who leads a very humble life. He is an accountant in his clan lord’s quartermaster office, and evenings he works at home assembling cricket cages for extra money. His wife has died, so he is raising his two young daughters alone. When his dad tries to fix him up with an ugly woman (thinking his son can’t afford to be too picky), Iguchi refuses to answer until he’s spoken with his daughters about it. Phil Donahue would be proud.

Two competing developments unfold in The Twilight Samurai. His friend’s sister Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), a sweet divorcee who is good with his daughters, spends more and more time at Iguchi’s house, stabilizing their lives with her presence. Meanwhile, unrest is growing in samurai politics, and one of the worst rogues refuses to commit ritual suicide as ordered. Iguchi’s skill with a short sword may get him “volunteered” to fight the dangerous character.

Although the same story could have played many different ways, The Twilight Samurai evokes sadness and loss. The way of the samurai is dying. When samurai are glorified clerks, one could say the way is already dead. Iguchi is also haunted by the death of his wife, and his devotion to his daughters is not so much joyful as quiet and tender. When he duels, it is reluctantly, and only because his sense of duty compels him.

Director Yoji Yamada has found a new way to make a samurai movie. His vision has earned 12 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards.

Just don’t look for it to be copied by Quentin Tarantino or Tom Cruise.