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The Legend and Butterfly - Movie Poster
Original Title:
The Legend and Butterfly

Japan 2023


Keishi Ohtomo

Takuya Kimura
Haruka Ayase
Hideaki Ito
Miki Nakatani
Kinya Kitaoji
Hio Miyazawa
Somegoro Ichikawa
Takuma Otoo
Takumi Saito
Shuichiro Masuda

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The Legend and Butterfly

The Legend and Butterfly - Film Screenshot 1

Story: In the 16th century, Nobunaga Oda (Takuya Kimura), the son of a warlord, is referred to as the "Fool of Owari" because he jokes around with his underlings and otherwise isn't known for his leadership skills either. His father eventually marries him off to Nohime (Haruka Ayase) in order to make peace between Owari and the enemy region Mino. Nobunaga suspects that Nohime is supposed to kill him, especially since she is not intimidated by her husband, and compared to him she is even better at hunting and fighting. The two are a bad match, but after Nohime's father dies at the hands of her own brother who now wields power over Mino, Nobunaga starts fighting for the territory. As a warlord, however, he lacks tactical skill, and his arrogance and desire to always be flashy through the way he dresses and behaves, are only a disguise for his incompetence. When a much larger army confronts him, Nohime comes to his aid, though, and her advice will prove itself to be pretty valuable. Nobunaga is able to bring the far more powerful opponent to his knees and so he starts to develop respect for his wife. As years go by, his ambitions grow, not least because of his wife, and he becomes known as a powerful warlord. At the same time, his feelings for his wife also start to grow. Nonetheless, his victorious campaigns are not supposed to last forever, and soon he has to face serious problems that make him act more and more ruthless on the battlefield.

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The Legend and Butterfly - Film Screenshot 4

Review: I don't know much about Nobunaga Oda, only that he was one of the three people who united Japan, and that he was quite bloody at that, so much so that he was even nicknamed "Demon King". Compared to what we learn about the warlord through movies and video games, "The Legend and Butterfly" approaches the biography of Nobunaga Oda in a slightly different way. Because we are actually presented with an outline of three decades showing his relationship with his wife Nohime, about which little is known. So, you shouldn't get too hung up on historical accuracy, because that's not necessarily the point of this movie. Nevertheless, the work seems elaborately produced and constantly lets us witness important stages of Nobunaga's conquering expedition. Most of the time, however, the plot unfolds much slower than you would expect.

The Legend and Butterfly - Film Screenshot 5

But let me put on record right away, that you need to have a lot of patience for this movie. Because with almost 170 minutes of running time, the story requires you to invest a lot of time. Still, since the plot stretches over thirty years and therefore has an epic touch, there are only a few moments in which you think that the movie could have been a bit shorter. Especially right before the finale, though, the pace slows down a lot and a little more brevity would have been nice. Despite that, the historical events are actually checked off quite quickly, sometimes even only through dialogues, so that you just get to see a few battles, and even those turn out comparatively small. "The Legend and Butterfly" wants to work on an emotional level and tries to shed light on the relationship between Nobunaga and Nohime. As mentioned before, the script diverges from what is known historically and biographically, but this artistic freedom allows the two characters to become more three-dimensional.

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There's Nobunaga, who is initially portrayed as a fool who is goofing around a lot, but later turns out to have a shockingly brutal side to him. This is clearly the right direction to go, because nowadays Nobunaga is honored as a hero for his merits but also loathed for his atrocities. Takuya Kimura ("Blade of the Immortal") has the difficult task of breathing life into this ambivalent character and succeeds in doing so with flying colors. Nobunaga has a temple burned to the ground which has women and children in it, and yet we can still feel sorry for him when it comes to his love for Nohime, who strangely, is an anchor for him and makes sure that he doesn't go completely insane. But Haruka Ayase's ("Ichi") portrayal of Nohime is equally impressive. Nohime is actually the strong one in the relationship, and she is the one who makes her husband have ambitions in the first place. Her manipulation may turn Nobunaga into the monster he is, but that was certainly not her intention.

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Eventually, the movie is also about the two growing apart, which is particularly fascinating because at the beginning there is certainly anything but love between them. Nohime actually only married Nobunaga to kill him. But with losing her father and the decades passing by, other feelings start to arise. Which is also captivating because the two of them can't really name those feelings. The way their marriage develops is captured in a very subtle way, and after each time jump, you can identify new slight changes. Both are emotionally dependent on each other at some point, even though they are not aware of it for quite some time. Watching these two characters, who can be described as morally gray at best, fight their way through life and hang on to very simple dreams, is extremely fascinating. Even though Nohime often has to take a back seat, she always remains an important part of the plot.

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Director Keishi Ohtomo has already gained quite some experience in the jidaigeki genre, and it's not for nothing that he brilliantly adapted the Rurouni Kenshin series, too (including "Rurouni Kenshin The Final"). Accordingly, images, camera work, sets and costumes look wonderful here as well. The fact that he often uses more of a quiet tone than you might have expected also speaks for him. Of course, there is quite some blood too, and we get a finale, which - even though it doesn't impress with outstanding choreography - includes some convincing sword fights. More than anything else, though, it's the emotional ending that is captivating, and it once again shows that Keishi Ohtomo has a clear vision for his story and never loses his focus. Even though you might still consider the movie a bit too long-winded in some places, the performances, and the emotional plot turn "The Legend and Butterfly" into a recommendable drama, which can also be called a love story of a different kind.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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