Twilight Samurai

Touching, slow-moving tale of family duty

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Despite the title, this Japanese period drama is no swords-and-gore fest. Instead, director Yoji Yamada has crafted a sensitive study of small-town Japan at the sunset of samurai culture in the 19th century. Our hero is Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), a middle-aged widower with two daughters, torn between domestic and clan duties. When his colleagues complain he always goes home at the end of the day instead of going for a drink, the nickname ‘Twilight Samurai’ sticks.

This is a restrained piece of film-making that focuses on the everyday, not the extraordinary. The fight scenes are dampened by Seibei’s reluctance to engage, yet made poignant by his unwavering loyalty to his family and the difficulty he has caring for them without a wife. The narrator is Seibei’s elder daughter who, at the film’s close, delivers a moving testimony to her father: an ordinary, poor man who loved his daughters and wasn’t dissatisfied with his meagre lot. This is excellent historical film-making, presented at the most real and human of levels.

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