I feel cheated by The Twilight Samurai. At no point in the film do a foot-faced vampire, a were-llama or a plank of wood get sliced to pieces by a samurai.
Right, if I can get past the deceptive title, The Twilight Samurai was Japan’s entry in the 2003 Academy Awards and sees petty samurai Seibei Iguchi, played by veteran actor and Japanese superstar Hiroyuki Sanada, struggle to cope after the death of his wife. Left to care for his two young daughters and elderly senile mother, and forced to sell his sword to pay the debts accumulated following his wife’s funeral, Seibei’s life enters even more turbulent times thanks to the arrival of a childhood love interest as well as a rival samurai.
Wait, I lied, I can’t get past it. I want to see Sparkley McGlitterBalls get cut up like chocolate cake in front of Rick Ross … No, that doesn’t work, he’d swallow it whole… get cut up like white powder in the Sheen residence (yeah, that works)… Anyway, whilst I fantasise about films that could (and should) have been, I can’t help but admit The Twilight Samurai is a surprisingly competent substitute.
While at times slower than a Down’s syndrome pub quiz, The Twilight Samurai is a fantastic success of character progression. In contrast to too much character progression (á la Love Exposure) or too little (I’m looking at you Twilight), watching Seibei slowly emerge from his shell like a turtle’s penis when it spots a particularly sexy watermelon worked fantastically in keeping me interested throughout. So much so that at times I found myself rooting for the sexual advances of a Japanese man. This feat, which I probably shouldn’t admit, is in no small part due to the incredible script from director Yôji Yamada that not only masterfully portrays the subtleties of innocent, true love, but also harbours the intricacies of pride, grief and violence in mid-19th century Japan.
On the acting side of things, Sanada’s performance is wonderful. Striking just the right balance of the melancholic lows and those sweet highs that allow him to provide The Twilight Samurai with a real sense of emotional believability, which is all important when creating that connection to Seibei when his internal battles erupt. And on that note, Rie Miyazawa, who plays beaten-housewife and love interest Tomoe Iinuma, offers a solid performance that based on my ‘scale of Kristen Stewart’, with the solidity of her relationships being 0 and the solidity of her expression when acting in Twilight being 10, is at least a Snow White (an 8).
Yet the show is stolen by a particularly mesmerising performance by Min Tanaka, as head samurai Zenemon Yogo, whose character offers a stark parallel to Seibei, effectively personifying the Yin to his Yang, and who feels the most human of the cast. The finale especially, culminating in a Apocalypse Now showdown, for me is when the film really hits its high; melancholic, tense and furious, it will leave a somewhat bitter, however pleasant taste in your mouth that really shows a different class of writing and film making.
For me this is a much needed breath of fresh air; films like Twilight have about as much emotional depth as an overly-amorous spider humping your mouth while you sleep.
However, not everything is peachy. I couldn’t help but feel patronised by director Yôji Yamada at times; for instance when he wants the audience to know that the scene is passionate, emotive music is thrown down your throat as subtly as a hotdog in Sasha Grey’s house. Rather than letting the actors’ performances guide me through their characters feelings, I felt like I was being forcibly pulled through by the hand. Nevertheless, I never felt that it detracted from the overall triumph that is The Twili – Wait what’s this in my mouth?