Autumn Rain of the Cicadas
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 07/28/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Samurai I Loved" (Original title "Semishigure" or "Autumn Rain of the Cicadas") is the fourth film to be released in the West based on the novels of Fujisawa Shuhei. The other three films make up the "Samurai Trilogy" by Yamata Yoji (The Twilight Samurai, based on a short story collected in The Bamboo Sword: And Other Samurai Tales, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor) and are instant classics of the genre.
"The Samurai I Loved" is not directed by Yamata, but instead by Kurotsuchi Mitsuo, who had personally acquired the rights to the story from author Fujisawa decades before. Kurotsuchi had only previously directed two films (Jutai 1991, Orugoru 1989) and spent the in-between time working on the screenplay for the Fujisawa adaptation.
Fujisawa's work is all about capturing the humanity behind the mythos of the samurai, and "The Samurai I Loved" is no exception. A young boy, Bunshiro Maki (famed kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro, Ashura) lives an unexceptional village life until his samurai father (legendary actor Ogata Ken, The Ballad of Narayama) is disgraced for supporting a rival lord's grasp for succession and is sentenced to perform seppuku. Bunshiro and his mother share the shame of the father's dishonor, to the extent that Bunshiro's childhood sweetheart, Fuku (Kimura Yoshino, Wakeful Nights), is no longer permitted to come calling. Severing the ties completely, Fuku is sent to Edo as a maid to the fief lord. Years into the future, Bunshiro slowly sees his place in society restored, but is shocked by the return of Fuku, no longer the pretty village girl but now the stunning Lady O-Fuku, concubine to the fief lord and carrying his child. Succession plots are gathering supporters again, and Bunshiro is asked to abandon his hard-won respectability to protect his long-lost love and her child from another man.
I dearly love Fujisawa's style of writing, which has been captured beautifully in "The Samurai I Loved." There are scenes that are absolutely heart-wrenching, and the subtlety of the love between Bunshiro and Fuku is touching and elegant. An ocean of depth lies behind those cool faces, and the ability to project so much while saying so little is what I love about Japanese film. Director Kurotsuchi has also made the most of the beauty of the changing Japanese seasons. The same location is seen in winter, autumn and spring, and the yearly song of the cicadas always brings us back to summer.
Which is not to say this is a perfect film. "The Samurai I Loved" is sort of a first-cousin to Yamata's "Samurai Trilogy," and isn't really on the same level. Yamata's films are based on his long experience as a filmmaker, and are modern works of film art. By contrast, Kurotsuchi is simply not the director that Yamata is, and the story is not evenly paced. Even for a Japanese film, there are times when "The Samurai I Loved" is agonizingly slow and some scenes, like the big battle showdown, that step too closely to parody.
But what works far outweighs what doesn't, and the ending of "The Samurai I Loved" is so powerful that it overwhelms any flaws that may have distracted from the movie earlier. Ichikawa and Kimura deserve special notice. I can't recall seeing a dialog-free scene before that spoke so loudly.
The DVD for "The Samurai I Loved" is very nice, and includes and interview with director Kurotsuchi Mitsuo. Animeigo has written the book on effective subtitling for modern DVDs, including options for subtitles in either yellow or white, and "dialog only" or "enhanced" versions that offer cultural hints and translations that go deeper into the meaning rather than just translating the dialog.
(On one aside, I don't know who gave this film the name "The Samurai I Loved," but it is a particularly cheesy title and a bad choice. A literal translation of "Semishigure" might have been strange, but not every period Japanese film needs the word "samurai" stuck in the title. They should have gone with something like "Cicada's Song" or even just left it as "Semishigure." Whatever you do, don't let the silly title keep you away from this beautiful film.)
SUPERB CINEMA! A MASTERPIECE!
MagiSci | 09/20/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a near perfect, heart wrenching film where all of the elements that make truly superb cinema have come together with exquisite nicety; excellent script, inspired casting, stellar acting, a classic score and masterful direction/visual storytelling. The subtitles, normally an irritation, have been executed with thought, purposeful care and effectiveness. If the title (of the film) had been chosen with the same care that was used in the execution of the other elements, this would be a perfect film. Bravo!
A Powerful Tale of Unfulfilled LOVE and Timeless HONOR
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 08/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the tradition of Yoji Yamada's "Twilight Samurai" and "Love and Honor", comes a samurai-chambara period film called "The Samurai I Loved" (2005). Directed by Mitsuo Kurotsuchi and based on the novel by Shuhei Fujisawa, the film is an enthralling tale about love, honor and duty that also carries a small scathing theme of indictment of the authority figures during feudal Japan. Those who are familiar with Kobayashi's "Samurai Rebellion" and Yamada's own Samurai trilogy would be at home with this film. It has won numerous awards in Japan as well as in the Moscow film festival.
Bunshiro (Takuya Ishida) is a young samurai who became alienated and low in status after his father (Ken Ogata), a petty samurai is ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) because of the actions of corrupt government officials. He relentlessly studies swordsmanship when his life is thrown into turmoil and his childhood love, Fuku (Aimi Satsukawa) is sent away to Edo to work in a clan lord's household. Many years later, Bunshiro (now played by Somegoro Ichikawa) has become a superb swordsman and a village inspector under the same man who had ordered his father to commit ritual suicide. His family's stipend restored, Bunshiro is grateful that he is finally given a chance to redeem his family's name. But fate has a way of complicating things, as he discovers that Fuku (now played by beauteous Yoshino Kimura) has become the lord's first concubine and had given birth to his son. He tries to put his feelings for her aside, but when he hears of a plot to murder Fuku and her son he must now rise up to defend her. He enlists the aid of two childhood friends to save Fuku, as hidden feelings emerge that will end with Bunshiro challenging the very clan he has sworn to serve....
The film is one well-directed, well executed tale of love, honor and duty. Its strengths lie in its characters, luscious scenery and its gorgeous cinematography. The direction takes its time so that the viewer can get to know its characters, the period and develop sympathy for their plight brought about the decisions of corrupt authority figures who can manipulate the rules. The first half of the film deals with the effects of Sukezaemon Maki's (Bunshiro's father) ritual suicide. You see the hardships of those he left behind as their shack becomes rotted from the elements, without their monthly stipend, the family can barely make ends meet. Director Kurotsuchi also remembers to bring the embarrassment of a family when one is sentenced to seppuku, as Bunshiro is left to pull the wagon with his father's body with the condemning whispers of the townsfolk. Despite all the despair, you see the unspoken love developing between young Fuku and Bunshiro; the warm emotion between them is endearing and a test of their friendship. The first half also brings the friendship between Bunshiro and his two friends; Ippei and kindly Yonosuke.
The second act brings Bunshiro's passage into manhood; he has become a skilled swordsman and has developed a rivalry with a student from another dojo named Hyoma Inukai, who is skilled with the `madman' sword technique. It also shows that one's skills with a sword may present one with opportunities to advance, as Bunshiro is selected to become a village magistrate by the same man who ordered his father's seppuku. Director Kurotsuchi also brings the power struggles that occur in these feudal times, as they see Ofuku's son who may become a threat to the clan's stability that proves to be the catalyst for numerous assassinations. Bunshiro is compelled to obey, but with one sight of his childhood friend, past feelings begin to return.
Bunshiro becomes torn between honor, duty and love which leads to the film's swordplay sequences. While the film does have more swordplay than Yoji Yamada's "Twilight Samurai", it does NOT abandon realism. The sword fights are realistic; one swipe, one kill. It was a testament to the direction to have shot a beautifully executed swordplay that is reminiscent of Kurosawa and Kobayashi's classics themselves. The fight with Bunshiro and Ippei against numerous swordsmen was nicely choreographed, accompanied with the usual Japanese style blood-letting and some arterial sprays. The direction also needs to be commended, as Kurotsuchi also remembers to bring the rivalry between Hyoma and Bunshiro to a resolution.
Takuya Ishida won a best actor award for his performance in the film and one wouldn't be hard-pressed to see why. The actor manages to express the needed emotions through his eyes, you see his pain and confusion as well as the longing for Lady Ofuku. Yoshino Kimura (Sukiyaki Western Django, Blindness) is also enthralling as the lady Ofuku. I was so taken by her beauty as she exuded the sophistication, manner of the Japanese woman. The supporting cast also does a very good job with Ken Ogata in its lead. The director manages to bring the best out of his actors for the film.
Despite all the praise, "The Samurai I Loved" does have some faults as some parts of the script left some things unanswered. I guess all of those could be excused if one keeps in mind that this is a chambara film built on the relationship (or lack of) between Bunshiro and Fuku. The final act is definitely full of emotion, as the screenplay brings everything to a close that sidesteps the usual crowd-pleasing expectations. While time may heal all wounds, there are things that still gives us a feeling of regret. Sometimes, destiny is about the choices we make, but sometimes, destiny makes those decisions for us. The film's title may give an impression that this may be a sappy love story which it is anything but. It has a feeling that is somewhat bittersweet, but makes one's life worthwhile just to know the truth.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]
VIDEO/AUDIO: 1.77 ratio anamorphic widescreen. The picture is sharp and clean although the colors are intentionally muted in some scenes to look `dreamlike'. The colors also lean towards earth colors. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Japanese track is nice and powerful. The subtitles are good with some mistakes in translations such as "Yeah", instead of "Yes". But the subtitles also provide definitions to certain Japanese terms to help its understanding.