Story: Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a samurai of the lowest rank. His income is miserable and he has to
take care of his two daughters, as well as for his senile mother. The death of his wife deprived him of his only
savings, but Iguchi gets hope and pleasure out of the fact that he can watch his two daughters grow up.
Iguchi has already realized for a long time that the days of the Tokugawa regime are numbered. The way of the samurai isn't a honorable or important one anymore and the country is in an atmosphere of change. If it would be up to Iguchi's whishings, he would like to spend his days as a simple farmer, but his codex binds him to his clan.
Seibei's wretched everyday life is illuminated by a ray of hope, when young girl Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), the younger sister of his best friend and also a friend from childhood days, comes for a visit. When Tomoe's ex-husband, a drunkard, suddenly appears, Iguchi accepts the challenge of a duel of honor in place for Tomoe's brother, in order to avoid further fights. Even though Iguchi is entering the challenge equipped only with a wooden sword as killing is officially declared a crime by the government nowadays, he beats his enemy without any effort.
Out of gratefulness for Iguchi's deeds, Tomoe comes by every day and takes care of the household chores of her savior from that day on. The children soon see her a as a new mother and Tomoe's brother even asks Seibei if he doesn't want to take her as his wife. However, Seibei doesn't think that she would have a happy life if she would have to face the poor conditions he is living in. Furthermore, the death of the ruler leads to a sudden power struggle and Iguchi has to fulfill his obligations as a samurai again...
Review: "The Twilight Samurai" is based on a novel by Shuuhei Fujisawa. Yoji Yamada's movie adaption centers
around the theme of the samurai and the end of an era, when honor and loyalty where terms that meant everything.
However, there is no place for the sword in this new world anymore, and so the samurai also lose their importance.
If you are expecting a typical Chambara-movie with lots of bloody encounters and sword fights, then you'll surely get disappointed. "The Twilight Samurai" is a drama through and through, whereas the complex topic is easily comprehensibly illustrated by the life of the poor samurai Iguchi. In contrast to many other dramas, Yamada manages to work in a great amount of warmth and genuineness into his film, so that the audience can instantly connect to the characters. This is no arthouse cinema with unnecessary lengths, but an engaging and touching movie, that works on a subtle level, about loyalty, honor, love and the meaning of life in a new world.
Although the movie easily could have run the risk to be slow-paced or even tedious with its running time of 129 minutes, the director succeeds in telling this extraordinary tale by pinpointing the essence of what he wants to say through the life of the characters. Iguchi and his family are depicted very natural. Even though Iguchi is called "Twilight Samurai" by his colleagues, because he never wents for a drink with them after work, but directly heads home at sunset, he doesn't care what others think about him. He works on the field and tries to be a good father for his two daughters. We also find out that Iguchi is way ahead of the thinking of his era. He encourages his daughter to read, as she can attain the power of thinking this way, which is as important for woman as it is for men in his opinion. Of course, he is standing on his own with this thinking. But even though he has no time for himself and therefore is wearing ragged kimonos, always has unkempt hair and seldomly washes himself, which leads to him being mocked by his colleagues, he still doesn't care, but continues to lead a harsh life of work to free himself from his debts in the hopes to be able to live as a simple farmer in the new days that are coming.
Hiroyuki Sanada ("The Last Samurai", "The Promise") gives an impressive performance as the samurai, who actually hasn't much in common with the title he has, anymore. Nonetheless, when it comes to it, he still has to obey the commands of his clan. He even questions more than a man of his status is allowed to, but that doesn't change anything. He has to complete the tasks his master assigns him to do.
Sanada also does a great job in the few fight scenes there are. Actually, there are merely two of them in the whole movie, as this film, as already said, is a drama and not a sword fight epic, and still that's also why they look even the more impressive. Especially the first fight against Tomoe's ex-husband, which is depicted in one single shot, is a true feast for the eyes.
Apart from him, Rie Miyazawa as Tomoe is also doing a good job as the affable and heartwearming girl who is also a new ray of hope in Iguchi's life. Naturally, this love story is also filled with some more tragic scenes, yet they fortuntaly always manage to remain believable.
"The Twilight Samurai" didn't win lots of awards and even got nominated for an Oscar without a reason. Wonderful pictures, enchanting landscape shots, a reserved and fitting score by Isao Tomita, great actors, as well as a moving story make this movie a masterpiece.
Through the eyes of a samurai, we learn about the political confusion, the atmosphere of change and the change of thinking in the country. The picture that is drawn of this era is very genuine and believable, despite the fact that our hero only experiences the political change indirectly. In his heart Iguchi isn't a true samurai anymore and this for a long time already. He cares about his family, has secret feelings for Tomoe and would like nothing more than to till his field. But even though he has already become a part of the new Meiji-era, he has to take up his sword in the end and fight against someone who is very similar to Ighuchi in his way of thinking.
The real tragedy is, that Iguchi obviously will never see the time he is longing for. Or why else would the story be told retrospectively by his aged daughter?
Surprisingly, the ending isn't as you would expect it to be. It is indeed tragic, but also satisfying. Heartwarming, without feeling contrived at all. That's the way a movie's ending has to be like!
"The Twilight Samurai" isn't only Iguchi's nickname, but also describes the era in which he is living. The world is facing a new dawn, a world in which samurai serve no purpose anymore and don't have any right of existence. The way veteran director Yamada handles the theme is very humane and heartrending. This is a simple and yet very complex masterpiece of a drama, that you shouldn't miss.