Friday, December 03, 2010

When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003)

Can't decide if my glass is half full or half empty with this one. It's an epic, moving, character-driven tale of conflicting Samurai codes and loyalties during the twilight years of the Shogunate. It's also overlong, excruciatingly sentimental — especially across its final third — which means one is perhaps less likely to be well disposed towards it as it ends.

Based on a novel by Jiro Asada, in a sense it's a Japanese Doctor Zhivago, with added comic intent. There's a plethora of vivid characters (many of them, such as the lively courtesan, more hit than miss), yet this variety ultimately detracts from the central opposition between Saitô-san, the would-be prowling wolf, and comparatively bumpkinish and stray dog-like Samurai, Yoshimura-san.

A greater focus on the interplay of these men and their impact on each other's response to the historical events around them would surely have resulted in a more interesting drama.

The movie was shown just over a month ago as part of the Japanese season at the Cooperación Española in Antigua, and forms part of a triumvirate of inward glimpses at old ways on the way out, shot by Japanese directors at roughly the same time Tom Cruise was galavanting around in the somewhat less nuanced period adventure, The Last Samurai. I'm yet to see the last of the three, The Hidden Blade (2004), but 2002's The Twilight Samurai was one of the best Japanese movies of the noughties.

Grade: B+

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