The Twilight Samurai

What did samurai do when they weren't crossing swords in the name of honor? Set at the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), veteran director Yoji Yamada's adaptation of three short novels by Shuhei Fujisawa, a respected author of samurai fiction, casts the legendary warriors as 19th-century salarymen indentured to their aristocratic bosses. Low-ranking samurai...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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What did samurai do when they weren't crossing swords in the name of honor? Set at the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), veteran director Yoji Yamada's adaptation of three short novels by Shuhei Fujisawa, a respected author of samurai fiction, casts the legendary warriors as 19th-century salarymen indentured to their aristocratic bosses. Low-ranking samurai Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) works for the Unasaka clan, maintaining and cataloguing the family's extensive cache of emergency provisions. While his co-workers visit geisha bars after work, Iguchi earns the mocking nickname "Mr. Twilight" by hurrying home at dusk to attend to his family. Mired in debt after his late wife's lengthy illness — he even sold his sword to pay for her funeral — Iguchi rejects his great uncle's offer of an arranged marriage that would ease his domestic burden. He instead cares for his increasingly senile mother and daughters, 10-year-old Kayana (Miki Ito) and her observant younger sister, Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), on his own. Iguchi adores his little girls and encourages them to study rather than learn a traditional craft like kimono sewing, but the daily grind of feeding, clothing and attending his family leaves little time for personal grooming and his appearance suffers. This breach of samurai etiquette makes it even clearer that Iguchi needs to remarry, but his sense of honor is such that he hesitates to rekindle his childhood romance with the lovely Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), who's returned home after divorcing her drunken, abusive husband and shyly indicates that she would entertain a proposal. Familiar with the daily indignities of poverty, he would rather lose Tomoe than encourage her in an act of self-sacrifice she might later regret. Though it includes a couple of sword fights, Yamada's epic domestic drama could easily be called an anti-samurai film. But its aim is less to subvert the genre's conventions than to deepen them, extending its parameters to include the minutia and rhythms of everyday life. Both meltingly beautiful and casually harsh — spring brings both flowers and the bodies of starved children floating down river — this elegiac look at the samurai tradition is narrated by the adult Ito, who saw the world of her childhood vanish in the wake of the Meiji Restoration that dismantled Japan's traditional feudal structure but retains vivid memories of the father behind the warrior.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: What did samurai do when they weren't crossing swords in the name of honor? Set at the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), veteran director Yoji Yamada's adaptation of three short novels by Shuhei Fujisawa, a respected author of samurai fiction, casts the l… (more)

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