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3 ½ Stars: Living a Happy Life may sometimes be the Best Revenge...
on 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]