The Twilight Samurai


The Twilight Samurai

is a 2002 Japanese film directed by Yoji Yamada. Set in mid-19th century Japan, a few years before the Meiji Restoration, it follows the life of Seibei Iguchi, a low-ranking samurai employed as a bureaucrat. Poor, but not destitute, he still manages to lead a content and happy life with his daughters and senile mother. Sadly, through an unfortunate turn of events, the turbulent times conspire against him.

The film is different from many other samurai-themed films in that it concentrates on showing the main character's everyday struggles, instead of focusing on action-oriented battles. Thus, the film carries only two fight scenes.

"The Twilight Samurai" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards, losing to the Canadian film "Les Invasions Barbares". Twilight Samurai also won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Plot

At the start of the film, the main character, Iguchi Seibei, becomes a widower when his wife succumbs to tuberculosis (consumption), a common illness at the time. His wife receives a grand funeral, more than what a lowest-ranking samurai such as Seibei could afford. Even the sale of a katana (samurai sword) could not cover the expense of a grand funeral, and a samurai could not part with his katana for it symbolizes a samurai's life. Seibei works in the grain warehouse, accounting for stores inventory for the samurai clan. Grain was very valuable during that time; it is the difference between a clan's very survival and mass death from starvation. His samurai colleagues give him the condescending nickname "Tasogare Seibei" or "Twilight Seibei" — when evening approaches, Seibei rushes home to look after his senile elderly mother and two young daughters, Kayano and Ito, instead of bonding with his supervisor and other samurai colleagues over customary nights of dinner, geisha entertainment, and sake drinking. Even though he is of samurai class, Seibei continues downward in a sorry state of neglect of his own appearance, failing to bathe and dressing in the same tattered rags day after day, almost looking more like a peasant than samurai. The well-being of his young daughters and medicine for his mother take priority over new clothes or covering the monthly bath fee. "Twilight" suits him well, a petty samurai of no significance.

Things change when Seibei's childhood friend, Tomoe (sister of Iinuma Michinojo, one of his better, kinder samurai friends) returns to town. Recently divorced from an abusive alcoholic husband, Koda (a samurai captain), Tomoe finds comfort and solace with Seibei's daughters. When her ex-husband Koda barges into the household of Michinojo in the middle of night in a drunken demand for Tomoe, Seibei accepts a duel with the captain, hoping to put a stop to the abuse. There seems little chance for him to beat the captain, but Seibei strongly feels he must try. Dueling amongst clan members is strictly forbidden (the penalty is usually death for whoever wins the duel as the loser of the duel is already dead), so Seibei decides to use only wooden stick whilst Koda brandishes a steel katana sword. Seibei overcomes, sparing both their lives.

When Iinuma Michinojo asks Seibei to marry his sister, he feels that Iinuma is teasing him for his strong feelings for Tomoe, like when he, Iinuma, and Tomoe were all children. Iinuma knows Tomoe's feeling for Seibei, and Seibei is a kind man who would treat Tomoe better than Koda. With much deep regret, Seibei cannot accept Iinuma's offer of his sister's hand in marriage, citing his inferior social status (a 50 koku samurai) and how he did not want to see Tomoe (from a 400 koku samurai family) share the burdens of poverty as Seibei struggles every month to feed Kayano and Ito whilst caring for his ailing mother. Seibei stoically regrets how his departed wife suffered in his care, who came from a higher 150 koku samurai family. Iinuma talks no more of it. Tomoe stops seeing Kayano and Ito. The twilight of Seibei's last years grows darker.

In the final act, the head of Seibei's clan, having heard of his prowess with a sword, orders Seibei to kill a samurai retainer, Yogo Zen'emon, who has been "disowned" and who stubbornly refuses to resign his post by committing seppuku. The young lord of the clan has passed away from measles, and there is a succession struggle going on behind the scenes over who will be the new lord of the clan. Yogo ended up on the losing side of this conflict, hence his ordered suicide. Yogo Zen'emon killed a formidable samurai who was sent to kill him. Seibei is promised a rise in social standing if he accepts the dangerous mission. Seibei is very reluctant at first, requesting two days to think about it. He says that, because of great hardship in his life, he has lost all resolve to fight with ferocity. He needs two days to get himself up to the task. The new clan leader is furious over this answer and orders him removed from the clan. Seibei finally agrees to attempt the mission. Upon parting that evening, Seibei mentions the welfare of daughters (Kayano and Ito) to his supervisor. His supervisor promisses him that he will make sure the girls will be taken care of if the worst comes to pass.

The following morning, Seibei attempts to get ready, but there is no one to help him prepare in the rituals that are customary of samurai before battle. With no one to turn to, he asks Tomoe for her assistance. Before he leaves, he tells Tomoe that he was wrong not to propose marriage. He says that if he lives, he would like to ask for her hand in marriage (now that there is promise of a promotion). She regretfully tells Seibei she has already accepted another man's proposal. Seibei, feeling like a fool, tells Tomoe to forget about the silly conversation. It is an awkward moment. Tomoe says that she will not be waiting at his household for him to return. Seibei says he understands completely. He thanks Tomoe for her generosity for assisting him in this final ritual. They part.

Seibei's "kodachi" (short sword) fighting style is matched up against Zen'emon's "ittōryū" (single long sword) swordsmanship in an intense close quarters duel. Despite being slashed several times, Seibei kills Zen'emon. Despite his wounds, Seibei limps home. Kayano and Ito rush to him in the courtyard, happy to see otou-san (father). Tomoe is still there, waiting in the house. They have an emotional reunion.

In a brief epilogue, his younger daughter explains that their happiness was not to last: He died three years later in the Boshin War, Japan's last civil war. Ito often heard from fellow co-workers that Tasogare Seibei was a very unfortunate character, a most pathetic samurai with no luck at all. Ito speaks on the contrary that this samurai of no significance married Tomoe and those were the happiest years of their lives.

Cast

Casting

Characters

*Hiroyuki Sanada - Seibei Iguchi
*Rie Miyazawa - Tomoe Iinuma
*Nenji Kobayashi - Choubei Kusaka
*Ren Osugi - Toyotarou Kouda
*Mitsuru Fukikoshi - Michinojo Iinuma
*Hiroshi Kanbe - Naota
*Miki Itô - Kayano Iguchi
*Erina Hashiguchi - Ito Iguchi
*Reiko Kusamura - Iguchi's Mother
*Min Tanaka - Zenemon Yogo
*Keiko Kishi - Ito
*Tetsuro Tamba - Tozaemon Iguchi

Historical Accuracy

The movie contains an accurate portrait of the life of the petty samurai at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

By 1700 military duties were limited to a small number of families... The majority of the warrior class were thus robbed of their old function in society. But since they were still maintained economically by the daimyo, it was more practical and less expensive to press them into service as civil officials than to recruit members from other classes in society... The writing brush therefore began to replace the sword as the primary tool of the warrior's trade. -- Peter Duus, "Feudalism in Japan", pg 100 (1969)
As seen in the film, the majority of the samurai are warriors in name only, they are mostly accountants.

Production

Release

Box office performance

Critical reaction

The Twilight Samurai has a rating of 98% at Rotten Tomatoes and is certified as "Fresh", Metacriticgave it an overall score of 82 out of 100.

Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post stated "This is an absolutely brilliant film but in a quiet way".

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave it four-star (out of four) rating saying "Seibei's story is told by director Yoji Yamada in muted tones and colors, beautifully re-creating a feudal village that still retains its architecture, its customs, its ancient values, even as the economy is making its way of life obsolete" . [ [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040521/REVIEWS/405210302/1023 :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews :: Twilight Samurai (xhtml) ] ]

Motion Picture Soundtrack

*Isao Tomita, composer
*"Kimerareta Rizumu" theme song sung by Yosui Inoue (translated: The Rhythm which is Decided)

References

External links

*imdb title|id=0351817|title=Twilight Samurai
* [http://www.jmdb.ne.jp/2002/dz003790.htm at JMDb (in Japanese)]
* [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/twilight_samurai/ at rottentomatoes.com]
* [http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/twilightsamurai/ at metacritic.com]
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14362-2004Jun3.html]
* [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040521/REVIEWS/405210302/1023]


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