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Original Title:
Bushi no ichibun

Japan 2006

Drama, Romance

Yoji Yamada

Takuya Kimura
Rei Dan
Takashi Sasano
Mitsugoro Bando
Nenji Kobayashi
Kaori Momoi
Ken Ogata
Toshiki Ayata
Nobuto Okamoto

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Love and Honor

Story: Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is a samurai of a low rank. His dream is to open a dojo one day, where he can teach children swordfighting regardless of the class they were born into. Still, the task he has now, earns him and his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) a secure income, so that he couldn't muster up the courage to change his life, yet. However, his employment as a poison taster for the local lord soon steers his life into misfortune, as one of the meals Mimura has to test is actually poisened. The Samurai falls into a coma with a high fever. His life can be saved, but when he, days later, opens his eyes again, he has to realize that he is blind.
Mimura's family gathers and discusses how Mimura and his wife are to be taken care of in the future. It is decided that Kayo has to accept the help of the high-ranking samurai Toya Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando), so that he puts in a good word for Mimura with the lord, in order for Mimura to get his pay as a samurai for the rest of his life. For this favor Kayo must become Shimada's lover. When Mimura hears of this the blind samurai wants to save his honor. He challanges Shimada to a duel...

Review: It's always impressive to see what a skilled director can get out of an all too well-known story. The themes Yoji Yamada handles in "Love and Honor" aren't unlike those he worked on in "The Twilight Samurai" and "The Hidden Blade", and this shouldn't be a surprise, as this one actually completes Yamada's samurai-trilogy. But is this a worthy finale to the series? Without a doubt!
How Yamada manages to bestow something special upon his movies isn't easy to define, but maybe that too is part of the film magic he weaves into his works. Still, one reason for the success of "Love and Honor" is without a doubt the fact that the movie is very character-focused. If you're not familiar with Yamada's pictures, you have to be warned, as you shouldn't expect any typical samurai-flick with endless swordfighting, here. "Love and Honor", as the title already indicates, is a drama about love and honor - and the way of a samurai.

The viewer is slowly but steadily introduced and dragged into the world and life of the samurai Mimura. The rather young samurai has his own share of dreams, can be surprisingly childish at times, and yet the code of a samurai is deeply founded in his thinking. Especially his sometimes easy-going nature makes it very easy for the viewer to sympathize with him. The picture that is drawn of Mimura gets more and more complex as the drama progresses, and actor Takuya Kimura delivers a truely striking performance. This may be even more astonishing for those who only know him from the very popular JPop Group "Smap" with which he gained fame. However, Takuya actually also gained some experience in some TV drama shows or Wong Kar-Wai's "2046". Nonetheless, this is the first time he plays the main lead on the big screen and he really gives it his best. His sometimes boyish nature blends very well with the otherwise very honorable and manly character of his and stands as a believable unit of an individual.

There is a certain simplicity running through "Love and Honor", that introduces us to the protagonist's life in an honest manner. Yet, this also means that the story unfolds, as it is appropriate in a drama, with a rather slow pacing. Nonetheless, you don't need to bring along a lot of patience, as Yamada knows perfectly how to let the audience be part of the lives of the individuals on screen. Thus, even the smallest dramatic moments have an enormous emotional impact on us, since they feel so sincere, and as if taken out of real life.
Adding to this realism is the directing. To call it unsophisticated or simple, really wouldn't do the director justice. However, that's the first impression you might get. But when you start to look more carefully, you will notice the naturalness, with which Yamada captures the events. In this naturalness lies something poetic and pure, that is seldomly to be found in a movie.

The poetry of the pictures are conveyed in a subtle manner, which is also the reason why they can be so moving for the viewer. The autumn leaves unceasingly raining down in Mimura's garden are only one example for the beauty of the pictures. Because of the way Yamada likes to direct, he also demands a great deal of his actors, because long shots without a single cut are among his favorite directing techniques. This supports the already mentioned naturalness and also creates certain dynamics.
The director is backed up by outstanding actors, of whom newcomer Rei Dan can also soon win over the audience's heart as the devote wife, even though her character wouldn't have suffered from getting a litte bit more color. A special word of praise goes to Takashi Sasano as Tokuhei, Mimura's handyman. His cranky and oftentimes unintentionally funny nature brings some modest humor into the film, which can be found on other occasions, too.

Takuya manages seemingly effortlessly to carry the movie on his shoulders as the blind samurai, and his kendo skills are also quite respectable. However, what creates such strong bonds between the viewer and the events on screen are the motives. It's not just about the for westerners at times seemingly abstract code of honor of a samurai, but about the love of a man towards his wife. His duel with Shimada doesn't (just) aim at keeping his honor as a samurai, but is about restoring the honor of his wife - he wants to save his love.
Yamada once again proves his finesse, because instead of just going for some emotional moments, that might force some tears out of the audience, he is very honest about his drama and with the viewer. This causes that "Love and Honor" can work on a much deeper level than what we are used from your standard drama. It's this honesty and naturalness, that forms Yamada's movie magic.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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