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The Twilight Samurai
|     review    |     awards     |     availability     |
Rie Miyazawa and Hiroyuki Sanada
Japanese: たそがれ清兵衛
Year: 2002
Director: Yoji Yamada
  Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Min Tanka, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Eiko Kishi, Tetsuro Tanba
The Skinny: A low-level samurai struggles to support his family in Yoji Yamada's masterfully told deconstruction of the samurai genre. Hiroyuki Sanada and Rie Miyazawa give outstanding performances.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

Based on the work of author Shuhei Jujisawa, The Twilight Samurai tells the story of one Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a widower with two daughters and a senile old mother, all of whom must survive on what little salary Seibei receives as a low-level samurai. Every day, once his duties are complete, Seibei rushes home to see to his family and begin work on his sideline job in order to make ends meet. Although his coworkers often ask him to go out drinking with them, his always refuses. Eventually, this pattern of bolting home as night falls earns him the nickname of "Twilight Seibei" among his colleagues.

Things start to pick up when Tomonojo Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), one of Seibei's closest friends re-enters his life. Iinuma tells him of the fate of his sister, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), who has just recently divorced her abusive husband Toyotaro Kouda (Ren Osugi) and taken up residence with Iinuma. Soon enough, Tomoe pays a visit to Seibei, and the two catch up on old times. Things seem to be getting off to a good start for both Tomoe and Seibei, but when Toyotaro shows up at Iinuma's home to lay claim to his ex-wife, Seibei must intervene, eventually getting himself involved in a duel with the drunken samurai. With nothing but a wooden sword, Seibei faces Toyotaro at the appointed time, and in a very entertaining scene, bests the man in one-on-one combat. In the succeeding days, Tomoe begins visiting Seibei more often, tending to the chores, playing with the children, and generally bringing an overwhelming sense of happiness and warmth to the Iguchi household.

Considering how well things are going, the natural next step for Tomoe and Seibei, both of whom share a genuine affection for one another, would be for the two of them to get married, right? However, while there is nothing more Seibei would like than to make Tomoe his wife, he fears that his lowly status would be far too much for her to bear in the long run. Making matters worse, the clan is undergoing some intense internal drama that may end up having some major consequences for Seibei. Once his superiors learn of his sword-fighting abilities, they order him to kill the "rebel" Zenemon Yoga, who is a master swordsman in his own right. Clearly, Seibei's death would prevent any chance for a "happily ever after" ending with Tomoe. Will he survive? And will Tomoe, who has received numerous proposals, even be available if he does?

What is remarkable about Twilight Samurai is that it is the type of samurai film that does not rely on swordfights or bold displays of heroism to win over its audience. Instead, the film's focus is on character, Seibei's in particular. The heart and soul of the film is Seibei's relationship with his loved ones, and Hiroyuki Sanada brings a sense of dignity, honor, and humanity to the role. Rather than gear us up for swordfights that would provide viewers with vicarious thrills, Twilight Samurai gives us a compelling depiction of Seibei's home life, a narrative decision that makes the world of the samurai feel more threatening, since one clan order or one unnecessary duel could end Seibei's life, thus impacting the lives of the people he cares about. By adding this level of danger, Twilight Samurai proves to be marvelous change of pace from films in which the protagonist has absolutely nothing to lose and the duels are meant to provide nothing more than sword-slashing thrills.

This focus on characterization and realism is perhaps best illustrated in the film's climax. Seibei's duel with Zenemon Yoga begins with a conversation, one that questions the samurai code in a way that most chambara films do not. This dialogue soon erupts into a close-quarters, claustrophobic duel, one in which the audience becomes increasingly unsure of whether Seibei will survive. Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, Yamada's film marks the end of an era. It's a deconstruction of the genre, one that mocks the hypocrisy of the samurai code, yet at the same time, through the character of Seibei, it is also a celebration of the ideals of that very same code, as it gives a wonderfully humane rendering of one honest man struggling to survive in a chaotic world.

Helping the story along is actress Rie Miyazawa, who makes great use of her seemingly limited screen time. Tomoe's positive influence on Seibei's life is not merely a case of a subservient female coming in to take care of "women's work," but instead, her role runs far deeper than that. Tomoe's warmth, compassion, and genuine affection for Seibei and his family only increases the sense that she is the missing element in the Iguchi home. Her relationship with Seibei is well-developed and adds an ample amount of poignancy to the would-be couple's possibly final conversation towards the film's ending.

Twilight Samurai may be somewhat low key, even simple, in terms of execution, but it is still deserving of every honor it has been awarded. In giving us such a sincere, honest protagonist in Seibei, the film shows how his personal code is out of step with the times, critiquing an era in which self-interest and self-preservation - not honor and compassion - are of utmost importance to those in power. Yet it also delivers romance, and yes, even a couple of good swordfights to keep us glued to our seats. Well-executed, surprisingly realistic, and infinitely compelling, Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai is nothing less than a modern classic. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)

Awards: 2003 Japan Academy Prize
• Winner - Picture of the Year
• Winner - Director of the Year (Yoji Yamada)
• Winner - Screenplay of the Year (Yoji Yamada)
• Winner - Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Hiroyuki Sanada)
• Winner - Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Rie Miyazawa)
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Music (Isao Tomita)
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording
• Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Direction
• Winner - Rookie of the Year (Tami Tanaka)
• Nomination - Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Nenji Kobayashi)
• Nomination - Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Keiko Kishi)
2004 Hong Kong Films Awards
• Winner - Best Asian Film
2003 Academy Awards
• Nomination - Best Foreign Language Film
2003 Berlin International Film Festival
• Nomination - Golden Bear
Availability: DVD (HK)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Director's Filmography and Trailers

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen