The Twilight Samurai
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164 of 170 people found the following review helpful
This Japanese film, directed by Yoji Yamada, won many awards in Japan. I can certainly understand why. It breaks the mold of films usually associated with Samurai warriors, and instead shows us the human side of a man who lived for his honor and who also wanted to just simply live.

The time period is 19th Century Japan. The strength of the Samurais is fading. And our hero, played by Seibei Iguchi, is a recent widower who is trying to support his two young daughters and aging mother. Yes, he's a Samurai, but of a minor caste. This means he works a day job, the equivalent of bookkeeper, along with a group of other men. He's a sad man, ignoring his personal hygiene, which embarrasses his boss. And he always goes straight home after work, never accepting the invitations of his co-workers to go out for a drink.

His relatives want him to marry again but he rejects the marriage broker who comes to visit. And then a lovely woman does come into his life. She's a childhood friend who has married badly. Because she was so mistreated, she has come home to live with her family. She's beautiful and kind and gentle, ad the sad Samurai's children love her. Later, he shows his valor with some swordplay with her abusive husband.

But as the story continues, and a romance blossoms, the man feels unworthy, even though it is clear that he and this woman would make a good match. And then, suddenly, the head of his Samurai clan calls upon him to commit a murder for the honor of the clan. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, he accepts, understanding that it is likely he will die.

I learned a lot about Samurai life and the details of living in a harsh environment every day. I felt I was right there, in a culture that is indeed different from mine. And, as I absorbed the atmosphere, I also felt the plight of a very troubled human being who had to make a hard choice about what he personally felt was right as compared to what his culture demanded of him.

This is a really fine film. The acting is extraordinary. The directing is flawless. There is romance, action and adventure. There's a serious glimpse in the world of the Samurai. And, most of all, there is a human story that tugged at my heartstrings. Highly recommended.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
In "The Twilight Samurai", director Yoji Yamada conceived a more realistic interpretation of life in 19th century Japan than is often seen in "samurai films". The result in a genuine period film that spends time on the daily struggles and family life of its protagonist, Seibei Iguchi, without adrenaline-pumping swordplay. Yamada based the film's screenplay on 3 stories by novelist Shuuhei Fujisawa. The story is told partly from the point of view of Seibei Iguchi's daughter, Ito, who is 5 years old in the film, but provides voiceover narration as a grown woman.

Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a low-ranking samurai of the Unasaka Clan, living under the Shogunate of mid-19th century Japan, a few years before the Meiji Restoration. Already the days of the samurai seem numbered, which casts a certain fatalism over the events of the film. Iguchi's wife has recently died after a long and taxing illness, leaving him to care for his two young daughters and senile mother with insufficient income. Iguchi actually enjoys the life of a farmer and watching his daughters grow, but his poverty leaves him without even proper clothing to fulfill his professional responsibilities. His spirits are lifted when he learns that Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), a woman he has adored since childhood, has received a divorce from her abusive husband. But when his clan's leader dies, the ensuing struggle for power may prove fatal for many samurai.

"The Twilight Samurai"'s success depends upon the performance of Hiroyuki Sanada, who makes Iguchi's humility, heartbreak, and eccentricities convincing. Mutsuo Naganuma's delicate, subtly hued cinematography draws our attention to character development and small gestures. This is a period drama, not a martial arts film. There are only one and a half sword fights, which director Yoji Yamada uses to impress upon the audience that samurai didn't conquer one another with quick fatal cuts, as we so often see in movies, but normally delivered and received many cuts and subsequently bled to death. "The Twilight Samurai" is slow and probably a bit too long at 2 hours and 9 minutes. But it is a lovely film of one man's acceptance of the difficulties his life has brought him. Japanese with English subtitles.

The DVD: Bonus features include interviews with director Yoji Yamada and actor Hiroyuki Sanada and 3 theatrical trailers, one of which is for "The Twilight Samurai". The interview with Yoji Yamada (10 minutes) is dubbed in English. The director explains why he wanted to make a realistic period film, why it was well-received by Japanese audiences, and casting actors Sanada and Min Tanaka, who fight in the movie. Hiroyuki Sanada speaks English in his interview (17 minutes). He talks about the character of Seibei Iguchi, his acting career, and his work on the film "The Last Samurai", in which he had a supporting role. The English subtitles for the movie cannot be turned off.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2006
Growing up with a first generation Japanese father and a second generation Japanese-American mother, and being very American the Japanese culture is very close and dear to me. Ever since I can remember, films like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Kwaidan, Ugetsu Monogatari, Sword of Doom and Seppuku [Harakiri] have shaped my view of Japanese cinema. I've also watched more Japanese TV historical drama series than I can remember in the last 35 plus years.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon Tasogare Seibei [Twilight Samurai] very much on accident and can't stop thinking about it. It's affected me that much. And more than anything it has opened my eyes to my ignorance regarding modern Japanese cinema. Sure I've enjoyed movies like Shall We Dance and Ringu, but only because they both had releases in the US. Tasogare Seibei has made me realize that modern samurai era films can be very very good, and don't necessarily need names like Kurosawa, Inagaki, Kobayashi or Okamoto attached to them to be good.

This film reminds me very much of Seppuku in that the central character is a devoted and loving father that makes great sacrifices for his family. Unlike the emotional and explosive battle climax that takes place in Seppuku the duel here is taken on reluctantly by Seibei with a heavy heart, yet equally heroically. This reluctance to violence by Seibei is similar to that of William Munny in Unforgiven. But while both are family men and farmers, they have very different character at their core.

Violence and the understanding of it is not what makes this such a great movie. Devotion to his two daughters and aging mother, undying love for a childhood sweetheart, the daily struggle of supporting loved ones on a measly clerk's salary while balancing massive debt is something most 21st century Americans can relate to. What makes it so easy to like, admire and sympathize with Iguchi Seibei is his humble and self-sacrificing approach to life. Compounded by "giri" [duty and obligation] to his clan this creates almost unbearable responsibility and leads to a heart-wrenching decision.

Tasogare Seibei is based on several short stories by Fujisawa Shuhei, and until recently I had no idea my father was such a fan of his. Fujisawa's stories focus on the trials of everyday low-ranking samurai living in the strict feudal world of the samurai. It's no surprise the film's director Yamada Yoji known for his long running Tora-san series is also a fan of Fujisawa's.

Growing up I often wondered if non-Japanese could appreciate or see Japanese cinema the way I do. When I read reviews on Amazon.com for Japanese movies, I have no doubt they can, and I'm frequently humbled that their insights are often more Japanese than mine. But that may also prove that cinema has no cultural or language barrier, so that a person in Moscow can see Gone With The Wind as the classic struggle of Russian women, or Twin Peaks can become a cultural phenomena in Japan. And part of what might make foreign films so special is that they present familiar situations in an inherently culturally unique way.

Twilight Samurai does that, and will hopefully help people realize that no matter the place or the time, we are all the same.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2006
This is absolutely one of my favorite movies. Sanada's performance as the reluctant warrior at the beck and call of lesser men who are his social seniors draws you into his world. This man is a fighter who has no real interest in fighting. He has children whom he loves and he aspires to nothing greater than caring for them. When he gets a second chance at a love life you hope he can pull it off but circumstances seem to work against it...

This isn't an "action" movie per se. It is definitely a love story; between the man and his family, between the man and his childhood sweetheart. But the lack of action filled fight scenes doesn't mean that you aren't aware throughout the film that this man is "special". As a martial artist and swordsman I felt that the two fight scenes that were in the film were really excellent in terms of technique and drama. Every time I watch this film, I enjoy it more and more.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This is a beautiful film from Japan that was nominated last year for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the story of a poor samurai who takes care of two adorable little girls and a senile mother while facing troubles at his job and the turmoil of his time. The film's emotional force lies in both the nuanced, delicate direction and Hiroyuki Sanada's amazing performance that would undoubtedly be nominated for, or even win the Oscar if the Acadamy members and voting actors were to see the film. It is that good. Apart from Kate Winslet, there has not been a better performance this year (in fact, the two are about tied in that respect). Sanada perfectly and precisely crystallizes every bit of complexity his character has to offer into a sympathetic man we care about and feel for throughout the entirety of the film, which is crucial to its success. There was also a notable performance from Min Tanaka as a dangerous, but deeply sad samurai cornered within a decrepit home. Tanaka managed to key in on the underlying depression and insanity of his dark character. You feel for him, and his presence adds an important sense of gravitas to the conversation both men have before the film's controlled, nerve-wracking climax. This is not your usual samurai film, and proves to be something revelatory, memorable, and, above all, satisfying.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2007
Great Movie - 5 Stars. One of the best Samurai films ever made. Refreshingly modern take on the genre.

TERRIBLE DVD quality - 0 Stars . Basically it looks like a VHS tape

The image is poorly colored and drab. The resolution is horrible, the entire image is fuzzy and noisy. The subtitles are huge, and their glued on! You can't turn them off. The image is also Non-anamorphic - which basically means it doesn't fit a widescreen tv.

By comparison the recent Criterion re-release of 7 Samurai which was made in 1954 looks better!

Please someone (Criterion) remaster this one for the good of mankind!
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2006
This is a magnificent movie and a truly moving tale of a poor Samurai who yearns to live the life of a farmer, raise his two little girls and live in peace. An accomplished swordsman, however, events will conspire to shatter his vision of domestic bliss. Called upon by the reigning warlord to avenge a blood feud, Seibei Iguchi will find himself once again forced to draw his sword in anger. (Yes, that's the same plot as 1000 other Samurai and Cowboy flicks, but the story-telling really sets this one apart).

That said, though the story is 1st rate, the poor video transfer of the U.S. DVD release mars the experience. It is not even a 16:9 Anamorphic transfer, but merely a 4:3 letterbox screening. Show this film on a screen bigger than 13" and you'll weep. For this reason I can only give it 3 stars.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2005
You can read the other reviews here to get an idea of the movie, but I have to warn people that the DVD transfer is very poorly done. The video is faded and looks cheaply produced even on a standard TV. The video is non-anamorphic (it's incredible that a NEW movie like this could be encoded this way) so it looks even worse on an HDTV because you'll have to "zoom" in on the picture to get rid of the black bars. The subtitles are burned-in to the video so there's no option to switch languages or turn them off. Finally, the audio is stereo (2 channels) instead of 5.1. It's incredible that such a fantastic, recent movie could get such horrible treatment on DVD. Empire Pictures needs to get with the program.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2005
Seibei has given up the sword. He could have reached high up in the clan, but he is content working as a scribe, tilling his land, and caring for his daughters and sick mother. Obviously, that cannot be. The clan has its demands and Seibei has to follow orders.

So many films promise the same things as Twilight Samurai, but the difference is that this film actuall delivers. So many films start promising, but then end up with the same boring, repetitive, and poorly choreographed action sequences. This does not mean that the film is boring, quite the contrary! There is so much drama and tension, but it builds up slowly, and the viewer is not offered the usual tension relief of the fights.

Seibei has found out that being a warrior does not mean killing - it is a state of mind, and can be put to good use. Obviously, his clan and family take a dim view of his position!

Seibei cannot stay out of the clan business - it is a turbulent time, and the need for loyal warriors is great. He is ordered to kill a fellow clan member. It would be here where a less succesful film would have deteriorated into mindless hack and slash. Instead, it becomes a meditation on the true meaning of being a warrior and of the true meaning of life. It is a fight between two persons, not between a hero and an enemy. Whoever wins, it is a man with dreams and memories that will die.

Lovers of fighting films however, do not despair - the few actual fighting sequences are absolutely fantastic, and could be used as teaching tools in dojos.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2004
Most people dream of a heroic way of life. Money, power, strength, these are the things most of us dream about. Imagine leaving work immediately each day rather than going out with your friends. Imagine going home to a senile old woman and two small daughters. Imagine having your family and friends scorn you for your poverty. And imagine wanting nothing more out of life.

Seibei is a man who gave up most of his small fortune to give a scornful wife a decent burial, and looks forward to nothing more than time with his family. The beginning of the movie invokes sympathy for a man with no worldly glory in his life. But as it progresses, the viewer discovers that dispite all his hardships Seibei is a very happy man who's greatest love is serving and being near his family. Despite many opportunities for advancements in both rank and pay, he prefers to live humbly and spend every possible minute with his loved ones.

The movie does indeed move slowly, but I hope the viewers are willing to give Seibei a chance to show us that the greatest happiness is in sacrificing for the ones we love.
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