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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2008
HANA: Tale of the Reluctant Warrior is more commonly known as "Hana Ebi Mo Nao" in Asia. The film follows the formulas that made chambara films famous with a bit more humanity and satire. Hirokazu Kore-Eda's take maybe a rethread of all the similar trappings, such as revenge and honor but he has subverted its execution to a "coming of age" film. The film's backdrop takes place in the 18th century when the samurai ideals are slowly beginning to fade. Yes, the film may be another revenge tale but it also takes an interesting twist with a very unorthodox style.

A young samurai named Soza (Junichi Okada) arrives in Edo with the intention of tracking down his father's killer. However, despite all his training and upbringing in the samurai ideals, Soza isn't much of a warrior. His skills as a swordsman is lacking and his tracking abilities are even worse. 3 years past, and he isn't any closer in finding his father's killer. He spends his time in the slum, surrounded by an array of neighbors that can barely make ends meet but for some reason they are happy with what they have. Soza meets a comely widow and has developed a liking to her. Soza begins to doubt the very ideals drilled into his brain. Here in the real world, these philosophies seem diluted and hollow as he witnesses his brother`s life become meaningless after he had taken over his father`s dojo. His family pressures him to complete his mission, as the deed would fetch them a hefty sum of money in these peaceful times.

Much like Yoji Yamada's "Samurai Trilogy", "Hana" takes a tone full of elegy. Chambara films tend to celebrate the samurai lifestyle but Hana subtlety casts it aside. It executes its storytelling with a lot of warmth, light-heartedness and cleverly dispersed bits of satire throughout. It is so subtle in its message that you may not even notice what Kore-Eda's trying to say. The film's focus on Soza as a young man bent on revenge and slowly finding the fullness of life among simple peasants is inspiring. If you remember the old adage; "Living a good life is the Best revenge" then you will have a good idea as to how and why Soza would have doubts about his mission.

The director may not be critical to the Samurai lifestyle as much as Masaki Kobayashi's films, when in fact, he also sees the beauty of it. The story of the 47 Ronin is also told in this film as many of those Ronin actually live in the same town Soza does. These men are plotting their own revenge to avenge their Lord who was forced to commit Seppuku, and they are also offended by Soza's lack of commitment and they worry that their devices maybe uncovered. To those of you unfamiliar with the story; the story of the 47 RONIN is among the most praised tales of Samurai Honor and commitment. These men have taken meager jobs and have kept a low profile for many years until the right moment has come to strike and take vengeance on the Lord who has wronged their clan. (See Chushingura)

While these men are plotting and bickering among themselves, Soza becomes involved in the community. Joining the townsfolk in their everyday routine, acting in a local play, and teaching children in a small pre-school he had opened to keep himself busy. The 47 Ronin are brooding and calculating ways to exact revenge and how to die honorably, while, Soza is drawn to a happy life, full of warm tenderness and friendship; he also finds himself slowly falling in love with a beautiful widow named Osae (Rie Miyazawa). Soza is not a coward, he is committed to his goal but unexpectedly, the young man seemed to have found peace and contentment in his life.

Kore-Eda has assembled a very colorful cast of characters and are further more accentuated with its performers. The director introduces each one to the audience by giving us glimpses of their lives. The film does become somewhat hampered by this move, since it diverts our attention from Soza but I rather enjoyed it. It never hurts when you have a wonderful cast made up of Rie Miyazawa, Jun Kunimura, Yoshio Harada (Azumi), Tadanobu Asano (Party 7) who plays Soza's intended target, who is more than what Soza was expecting. This is actually the film's main strength and the manner of which everything falls in place is impressive and at the same time humorous.

"Hana" is a powerful moral tale that exhibits warmth and its message of non-violence is crystal clear. People expecting swordplay and action will be very disappointed. Samurai aficionados may not care for its moral stance but I thought it was reflective of real world applications. The music adds a lot of energy and the costumes and set designs are very accurate. It may have more melodrama than I particularly care for but the warm humanity it emulates is inspiring. It may not follow the traditional tale of chambara period films but courage and honor maybe a matter of just how one looks at it.
Sometimes, moving on with your life is the best revenge.

RECOMMENDED! [3 ½ Stars]
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on August 16, 2008
If you're looking for a sword-swinging, blood squirting, action tale with fainting geishas and glowering samurai, then you'de better go elsewhere. However, if you want an interesting story, interestingly told - then come on in!
The things I liked best about this film were the sets, (think: Kurosawa's "Lower Depths," but in color) the music - interesting choices, especially when "the boys in the band," (a group of unlikely performers with a mission) get going, and the plot's meandering twists.
I'm not going into the plotline. That has been adequately dealt with by others. I bought this film knowing nothing about it, and enjoyed it thoroughly for not being primed to expect one thing or another.
Just buy it. You might not like it as much as I do, but then you can be a swell person and donate it to your local library, which undoubtably needs additions to its "foreign" film section.
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on February 15, 2009
This movie follows a young samurai as he goes from strict adherence to the samurai code by seeking vengeance for the death of his father to a dawning realization that there's more to life than simply an honorable death.

As others have mentioned, there's very little action in this movie. Only two very short sequences, neither of which follows the classic samurai sword fight scenario. Instead, there's a great deal of comic dialog and situations.

It's a good film. Although somewhat long, the only place it really drags is during a rather long digression that focuses on a secondary character. I believe the director is trying to use the digression to show that the role of peasants in the era was not always as simple and lacking in tragedy as the rest of the film portrays, but it mainly serves to interrupt the main story and further slow the pacing.

Still, an entertaining film well worth watching.
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Hirokazu Kore-Eda is an award winning director known for his films "Aruitemo aruitemo", "Wonderful Life", "Dare mo Shiranai" and "Maboroshi no Hikari" released a film to theaters in Japan in 2006 titled "Hana Yori mo Naho".

VIDEO & AUDIO:

"HANA" is presented in 16:9 and the picture quality tends to show some differences. Some that try to make the film look aged and then sometimes you get picture quality that is good. But for the most part, picture quality for the DVD is good. Cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki is able to capture the beauty of Japan but also the grimy and dirty row houses and livelihood of the peasants in the area. The set design in making sure things look quite realistic was really impressive.

As for audio, the film is presented in Japanese 5.1 Surround Sound and English Stereo. For the Japanese audio, the film is primarily dialogue and music driven, so you can expect a lot of the film to be front and center channel driven while certain scenes such as a rain storms utilizing the surround channels. Dialogue is clear and understandable and I did. The English dub is included and I listened to a small part of it and for the most part, FUNimation Entertainment is known to hire good voice actors for their anime and for the most part utilize them for their live action films. Personally, I'm not very into English dubs of Asian cinema but it is offered for those who can not stand films with subtitles.

Subtitles are only in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"HANA: The Tale of the a Reluctant Samurai" comes with the following special features:

* Opening Day Stage Greetings - (3:15) The Director and cast is interviewed in front of an audience during the opening screening about the film.
* Original Trailer - (1:46) Three theatrical trailers (in Japanese but with English subtitles).
* FUNimation Entertainment trailers - Trailers for FUNimation Entertainment live action films and anime series.

JUDGMENT CALL:

Lighthearted and entertaining, "HANA: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai" is a rare samurai film that you will ever see presented in this manner.

"HANA: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai" is quite an interesting film. Where most samurai films are about the fighting, the bushido way or getting revenge, Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda does things differently and poses the question, why get revenge?

I've read on the Internet that Kore-Eda was inspired by the events of 9/11 and with many people, there is this mindset of "an eye-for-an-eye". In this case, the main protagonist, Soza, who is one of the sons that is asked to exact revenge after his father is killed over a petty disagreement during a game.

Soza knows he must avenge his family's honor but at the same time, living at the row houses and away from his own family who are very stuck on getting revenge and restoring the family's name, those at the row houses and were former retainers of their Lord are just more focused on surviving and getting by with what they have. Those who were once samurai's who killed are now trying to make a living and raising their family.

He questions morality and what has he accomplished in his life. He spent three years of his young life for looking for his father's killer and yet, he has not lived life. At least his father got to teach him how to play a game of "Go" but now that he has grown close to a family, he wants to give back. But the film also makes the viewer see how Soza who finds his father's killer, also observe the life he has with his own family and having a newborn and a young boy. And you can tell Soza is tormented because as much as he wants revenge, he also has compassion. Very rarely do you see a film that shows the protagonist's foe in such a way.

On the pop culture end, Rie Miyazawa has always been a spectacular actress and she's coming a long way since her younger years and has become one of Japan's most popular actresses to have in a film. As for the main star, Junichi Okada, it's quite interesting because I have followed his career as a singer in the boy band V6 (and Coming Century) and he's always been the more serious of the younger members and his television roles seem to have reflect that. But for "HANA: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai", he brings a sense of emotion through his eyes and facial expressions of a confused character. He does a great job of playing the role of Soza.And the film also stars a good number of well-known talent from Japan and even comedians as well.

If there was one thing that some may complain about is the film's duration. It is a long film at 2:08 minutes and it's not an action film where the time goes by quickly. So, this is one of those films where you want to make sure you that you are fully alert, wide awake and ready to take in.

The film is very lighthearted in nature and one should not think this is your average samurai movie because it's not. "HANA: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai" really deconstructs the legend of the samurai but with good balance of comedy drama makes this film worthwhile.
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With every new film, Koreeda Hirokazu (After Life,Nobody Knows) shows himself to be one of the giants of modern Japanese film. He seems to have inherited the space left behind by Itami Juzo (Tampopo,Supermarket Woman) telling Frank Capraesque tales of kindness and affection overcoming insurmountable odds, creating a world where life's bitterness is always tempered by the sweet and simple joys that life can provide.

Koreeda is definitely a stylist, and it should come as no surprise that his take on the samurai genre, "Hana" (Japanese title "Hana yori mo naho," or "Even more than flowers.") has this same bittersweetness. With this film, Koreeda has taken one of Japan's most recognizable stories, a tale told for more than two hundred years and always with a fist pounding the chest and a grim face, and turned it into a sweet love story.

The story is Chushingura, known in English as the "47 Ronin." The real-life tale of the loyal 47 Ronin who avenge the death of their Lord Asano has been re-told and filmed countless times since the incident occurred in 1701. The title of this film is actually a reference to the event, being a snatch of a poem recited by Lord Asano before his enforced ritual suicide. "Though we may regret the scattering of the flower petals in the wind, even greater is the regret in my heart."

Koreeda has used Chushingura as the decoration for his main story, of a samurai named Soza (Okada Junichi, who appeared in an early made-for-TV adaptation of "Chushingura") who has been charged with the vengeance-killing of the man who slew his father. Soza's father, a proud samurai, was killed not on the battleground but in a dispute over a game of Go, and the clan looks to Soza to reclaim his father's honor and to prove himself as a samurai. Soza, however, is not a violent man, and has whiled away three years pretending to seek the killer while actually whiling his time away in the dire poverty of a series of row houses, and getting to know the people living there.

Life in the row houses allows for an ensemble cast, including a few of the 47 Ronin who are hiding out and plotting their revenge. Soza strikes up a friendship with a neighbor named Osae, (Miyazawa Rie, who had also appeared in a previous adaptation of "Chushingura.") and her orphaned son, who looks on Soza as a father-figure. A three-stooges like trio of comedy relief try to figure out how they can increase their excrement, which is sold to farmers and pays for the New Year's mochi. In a plotline straight out of The Goonies, a cruel landlord plans to evict all of the tenants of the row house unless they can come up with the back-rent all of them own. Cue the wacky plan and let the hijinks begin.

The only film I can really compare "Hana" to is Kurosawa Akira's The Lower Depths. This is a story of love and life amongst the lower classes, and of those who face the demands of their station as opposed to the whispers of their hearts. It is a peaceful, quiet film with no action and no dramatic conclusion. And it is beautiful. The music is especially delightful. I am not sure what kind of instrument is playing but I love the sound and it fits perfectly with the tone of the film.

If you like Koreeda's films and the message that he sends, then you will fall in love with "Hana." I certainly did. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that all samurai films need heavy-hitting heroes and bold drama to make for a great film experience.
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on August 20, 2013
This is not a sword fighting movie but more of a modern theme at the end of the Samurai period. The film shows the harsh realities of life in Japan during a transitional time. It shows the human side to life both of upper and lower classes.
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on December 2, 2015
I bought this film because I was interested to to see more of the male lead, Junichi Okada. It's a quirky film, which develops the plot slowly, but by the end everything, and everyone, comes together in a satisfying conclusion. It was fun to watch.
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on January 16, 2015
Not a Samurai movie, for those who want that. This is a very Japanese reflection on violence and compassion. This is post-Shogunate Japan, hence samurai no longer matter. Full of great actors, deep character development, tons of little twists and revelations . . . . a lot of what makes "Amegaru" a great movie.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 20, 2012
"Hana" tells the story of a samurai, Junichi Okada, send by his clan on a mission to avenge the death of his father, who was murdered by a bandit. The mission proves however to be very difficult, mostly because Junichi is a very "special" samurai, unable to fight and a natural born coward. I expected a lot from "Hana", but I was disappointed. I did not like this movie at all, for many reasons.

First, I was surprised by its tone - this is a film which not only criticizes but mocks and ridicules in very offensive way the samurai and their values. If you expect a samurai movie you will be very disappointed - this is an ANTI-samurai movie. The attack is particularly violent considering that the episode of "47 ronin" (Chushingura) is the background of the main events. So be warned.

Secondly, I found the alternative to the samurai values offered by this movie revolting: it is a call to live cowardly, poorly and in mediocre obscurity at the margin of the society, because it is less demanding and less dangerous. This is why the main "heroes" of the movie are a craven and inept samurai and a bunch of bums living in a miserable shanty town. I am all in favor of choosing life over death - but not at the expense of every single ounce of self esteem and of the most elementary justice! Also, it is one thing to forgive the wrongs we suffered and another one to give up in front of the wrongdoer just because we are afraid!

Thirdly, maybe to stress the message, the director manifests a kind of morbid fascination with latrines and their content, which hold an important part in the plot. There are at least two moments which disgusted me so much that I had to pause the watching.

And finally, this movie is terribly slow and boring, with really weak dialogues.

I give this film two stars only because of great mastery of camera work, which is indeed very good, especially in showing all the aspects of life in an XVIII century Japanese slum. Otherwise this is one of my least satisfying recent viewings and I am going to forget it with pleasure.
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on January 8, 2011
"HANA" is not the typical slash and burn chambara film. It is a good story about what is important in life and the challenge of taking charge of your own destiny in the face of family and peer pressures. I love the set which shows a much more realistic style of life for the ordinary people, with ill fitting shoji and community toilets. Little glamorization. It has a lot of humor that keeps it from becoming "preachy". It is a bit slow and bored my partner into sleep. But I've watched it twice and enjoyed it. If you like human experience type movies, you will like this.
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