Like Yamada's The Hidden Blade (2004), The Twilight Samurai takes a hard look at the declining fortunes of the samurai class as the Shogun period transitioned into the Meiji Restoration. Low-ranking samurai Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a widower with two daughters, Kayano (Miki Itô) and Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), and a senile mother. He lives a hardscrabble life, and rather than spend all night drinking with his brethren, as is expected of a good samurai, he tends to rush home to attend to his family and chores. That earns him the insulting nickname of "Twilight Samurai."
When his childhood crush Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) returns to town after divorcing her crummy husband, Iguchi sees hope for his future, but first he'll need to defend her honor when the ex-husband shows up and challenges him to a duel. Big mistake. Iguchi has talent with the blade, and is able to beat the interloper with only a wooden practice sword. Still, he's reluctant to marry Tomoe because he doesn't want her to have to live in his impoverished circumstances.
When word of Iguchi's sword skills gets around, his clan leaders ask him to kill a former colleague who has refused to commit seppuku. He doesn't want to get involved, but the samurai code is still in effect, and he must obey his masters. The sword fight commences, but keep in mind it's one of only two in the film. This is not your typical samurai saga.
Iguchi often expresses his desire to simply become a farmer and be left alone, but like a made man in the Mafia, once he's in there's no way out. He's an honorable man whose desire to uphold his honor forces him to do things he considers dishonorable. It's a tough psychological struggle, especially when he's so concerned about providing for his shattered family.
Yamada has a master's touch, creating a foggy rural world of hills, rivers, and trees in springtime. It always seems to be raining (and he shows us that Iguchi has holes in his wet socks, one more minor misery). Like The Hidden Blade (which would make a great double feature, by the way), The Twilight Samurai strips away all the glamour of the beknighted life to show just how down, dirty, and difficult Japanese life was in the 19th-century, even for those who lived in a supposedly superior class. It's consistently fascinating to see what happened as twilight falls on an entire way of life.
Aka Tasogare Seibei.
Take a little off the sides, too, OK?
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 2nd November 2002
Box Office Worldwide: $7.3M
Distributed by: Empire Pictures
Production compaines: Shochiku Company
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Fresh: 67 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Yôji Yamada
Producer: Hiroshi Fukuzawa, Shigehiro Nakagawa
Screenwriter: Yôji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama, Ichirô Yamamoto
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada as Seibei Iguchi, Rie Miyazawa as Tomoe Iinuma, Nenji Kobayashi as Choubei Kusaka, Mitsuru Fukikoshi as Michinojo Iinuma, Hiroshi Kanbe as Naota, Miki Itō as Kayano Iguchi, Erina Hashiguchi as Ito Iguchi, Reiko Kusamura as Iguchi's Mother, Ren Osugi as Toyotarou Kouda
Also starring: Yoji Yamada