Yojiro Takita's epic film set at the end of the Edo period in Kyoto tells the story of Kanichiro Yoshimura, a lone Samurai whose sole purpose in life was to make enough money to support his family. His fellow warriors ini... more »tially view him as dishonorable for this mercenary approach, especially Saito, another member of the Shinsengumi, guardians of the Imperial capital. It is here that Kanichiro proves himself time and time again as a master swordsman, eventually earning the respect of Saito and the other samurai.« less
Kiichi Nakai's captivating performance of a true samurai
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 01/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is probably inevitable that American audiences will compare "Mibu gishi den" ("When the Last Sword is Drawn") with "The Last Samurai," in that both films deal the Meiji restoration. This is also a similarity between the two in that this 2003 Japanese film from director Yojiro Takita ("Komikku zasshi nanka iranai," "Onmyoji") also is concerned with a character learning the true meaning of being a samurai. The difference is that instead of an American mercenary played by Tom Cruise it is a city samurai, Hajime Saito (Koichi Sato), who learns much from Kanichiro Yoshimura (Kiichi Nakai), who he dismisses at first meeting as a "country" samurai.
The story here is told mostly in flashback from the perspective of 1899 when Saito, now an old man, brings his ailing grandson to see a doctor. In the home of the doctor there is an old photograph of a samurai that Saito recognizes, and the memories come flooding back to both the old man in the doctor (only the viewer is privy to both). The two samurai first met during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as clans were forced to choose between obedience to the Shogun, who wanted to maintain the old ways, and the Emperor, who favored opening Japan to the rest of the world and modernizing the country. The group to which Saito belong remained loyal to the Shogun, which dooms them as the troops of the Emperor take control of the country.
The civil war is creating a time of famine and poverty in Japan, so Yoshimura has left not only his clan but also his wife and children behind to find work so that he can send money home to his family. Since he is a mercenary Saito and the other samurai see Yoshimura as being dishonorable. When Yoshimura talks with love of the land from which he came, Saito, who cannot conceive of being loyal to a place rather than to a man, decides to kill Yoshimura. But the "country" samurai is too good with a sword and believes that Saito's attack is just a test. However, the key difference between the two is clearly established: Saito is alive because no one has killed him, while Yoshimura kills because he wants to stay alive.
It is clear that Yoshimura represents for Takita the personification code of Bushido. Time and time again my Western sensibilities intruded into this film because with his great love for his family and the land from which he comes, I kept expecting Yoshimura to simply go home, but eventually got it through my thick skull that the point here is that he cannot go home, for several reasons. Despite the brief battle and swordplay sequences, "Mibu gishi den" is really a character study and like Saito we come to recognize the true value of the strange samurai from the country, especially when the doctor finishes the tale and provide a sense of closure for the both old man and the viewing audience.
In the 2004 Awards of the Japanese Academy, "Mibu gishi den" won Best Picture with Nakai picking up the awards for Best Actor and Sato for Best Supporting Actor. It was nominated for eight other awards, but apparently in Japan winning the Best Picture award does not carry over into a lot of technical categories. However, I would certainly argue that it is Nakai's performance that elevates this film above the high levels of sentimentality that take up almost the entire final act. Quite simply his performance was what made me round up in the final analysis on this decidedly different samurai film."
An enjoyable film
Edward Golamb | Mesa, AZ USA | 12/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was the closing film at the 2002 Tokyo International Film Festical. Yoshimura Kanichiro, "the wolf of Mibu", who toils through the end of the Shogunate era armed only with his sense of justice.
I have owned this movie for some time now and never tire of watching it again to pick out details of the story I had missed before. I find it has a rich mixture of sights and sounds that make it a story worth repeating. The characters are believeable and full of emotion. The action is well played. I've found it to be a keeper."
The Heart of a True Samurai in an Incomparable Movie!
Sharon Shurley | Tulsa OK | 08/31/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Comparing American-made The Last Samurai to Japan's When the Last Sword is Drawn is like comparing a Junior High School play to a great Broadway production. There is no comparison. Tom Cruise vs. Kichi Nakai? Please -- It's laughable and insulting to Nakai. Kichi Nakai gives the performance of a lifetime playing Kanichiro Yoshimura, the country samurai whose first and only responsibility is feeding his family amidst a famine which has struck his beloved homeland.
Yoshimura faces disgrace and banishment from his clan because he dares leave his homeland to find work to keep his family from starving to death. The jobs he takes are distasteful to him and morally wrong, but he is driven by his desire to take care of his family. Every little bit of money he earns, he sends back to them. He is made fun of because of his constant drive to earn more money for his family and is thought to be a weird samurai who does not understand the true nature of being a samurai.
This attitude is especially expressed by fellow samurai Saito who hates his quirky country samurai ways so much that he tries to kill Yoshimura. However, Yoshimura quickly reinforces his unparalleled swordsmanship, and Saito is put in his place rather quickly. Still, Saito continues to hate Yoshimura and fails to understand Yoshimura's greatness until they (the Shinsengumi) are faced with certain defeat from the approaching Imperial Army.
The last thirty minutes of the movie are so emotional that I challenge anyone not to cry during Yoshimura's final speech. This movie is so much more than a samurai movie. It's about what kind of person each of us should strive to be. Yoshimura is a perfect man in an imperfect world. He is so good, so loyal, so dedicated, so courageous and so loving. The movie is inspiring and must stand on it's own and never be compared to any other film -- because it is so superior in every way. The story is told brilliantly and is approached from an angle not seen before. The actors, most significantly of course -- Kichi Nakai -- are extraordinary. Koichi Sato as Saito is at first darkly menacing. However, later, because of his relationship with Yoshimura, he comes to know the true nature of what it is to be a real samurai. Sato's performance is so genuine and heart-felt that the viewer will also undoubtedly be deeply moved by his character.
In my opinion, this movie cannot be casually viewed. In other words, I can't imagine a person watching this movie and then immediately going to the club or out shopping. It's a movie to savor like a fine wine or a great piece of literature. It's a wonderful movie and should be on everyone's must see list."
AS A JAPANESE VIEWER...
dovefancier | London, England, UK | 06/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the best and most beautiful samurai movies I've ever seen. Around the end of the samurai regime (Tokugawa Shogunate) in the mid 19th Century, 'Shinsen-gumi' was formed. It was a group of specialy trained samurai and was mainly based in Kyoto, and was operating like the security police of the City, particularly targetted any attempt against the samurai regime of that time. Now the time has changed, in the early Meiji Period, soon after the samurai period, Japan was becoming westernised rapidly both socially and politically, and an old man, Saito, ex-Shinsen-gumi member, looks back over his past as a radical and ambitious samurai, and recalls his new Shinsen-gumi colleague from Northern Japan, Yoshimura, who had a very strong Northern accent. The story is about the life of Yoshimura, and the strong conflict that Saito's felt for Yoshimura.
I have a feeling that Tom Cruise's 'Last Samurai' is based on this kind of antagonism between the samurai and the new ruling power, although, strictly speaking, his movie was a mixture of modern, old and very old samurai world in Japan. For this reason, to Japanese viewers or people who know the history of Japan well, it was a bit strange (but the story and photography were fantastic!). But 'When The Last Sword Is Drawn' is very consistent in this sense, and shows a beautiful part as well as a brutal side of the samurai society of that particular time. It's purely Japanese which means that you may notice subtle details including the way 'kimono' is properly worn and ladies walk absolutely elegantly (unlike Memoirs of a Geisha!). This is a very cultural and historical film and an emotional rollercoaster! Enjoy it!"
An Outstanding And Memorable Film!
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 01/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""When The Last Sword Is Drawn," is a highly recommended film. I just recently purchased this film, and was extremely impressed with it. The film is basically told in flashbacks. The year is 1899, and the Meiji Restoration is now over 30 years past. However, the film deals with the events leading up prior to the Meiji Restoration. The character Saito (Koichi Sato), who is now an old man, has come to visit a doctor with his sick grandchild in tow. Inside the Doctor's office is an old photograph of a samurai. And it here the film takes off. Saito notices that the samurai in the picture is a man named Kanichiro Yoshimura, whom he once knew during the tumultuous waning days of the Tokugawa era. As he looks at the picture, memories of a former time begin to flood him of his past as a member of the Shinsengumi.
For those who are not aware of the Shinsengumi, they were a small army of samurai who banded together to protect the Shogunate. They were not anti-imperialist, however, they did not want Japan to be opened to the West. Therefore, they sided with the Shogun. Their leader was named Isami Kondo. There have been countless films, books and plays of the Shinsengumi. They are well known in Japanese history. However, there was much treachery involved during their short tenure of policing Kyoto. They would later be betrayed by the Shogun. For those who want to know more, there is a film titled "Shinsengumi: Assassins Of Honor," starring Toshiro Mifune that was released in 1970. It's a very good film.
Back to the story: Saito detested Kanichiro Yoshimura, because Yoshimura only fought for the money. His idea of being a samurai was not to die with honor, but according to him "To Kill to Live." The Doctor in the office also recollects on the man in the picture. It was his fathers friend, who was kicked out the clan because it was forbidden to leave the clan. This is a GREAT FILM. Yoshimura is truly talented with the sword. I do not wish to divulge too much, as this is one of the better samurai films out there. A truly great film. The character development in the film is outstanding, and the scenery of the film is breathtaking. Really great cinematography in this film.
History has long recorded the demise of the Tokugawa era, the fall of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor. The Tokugawa Shogunate wanted to remain closed to the outside world and keep going along its old ways. This was in contrast to the Emperor, who wanted to open the nation to the West and lead Japan on a path of modernization. Saito and Yoshimura were both aligned with the Shogun being that they were both members of the Shinsengumi. The interaction between these two characters is great. Saito has his own demons to deal with in the film, and we see that he is not a virtuous man. And although Yoshimura fought for money, and not so much for his love of the Shinsengumi, his village is starving and he has a son and wife to feed.
This film does an excellent job as it gives a very good, and terrifically developed character study of these two former members of the Shinsengumi. The films narrative moves at a slow and steady pace. If you have viewed the two recent films "Twilight Samurai" or "The Hidden Blade" then you will notice that although the film runs along much similar themes--this film is a notch well above the other two film. It really is that good. The characters are not as nuanced as they are in 'Twilight' or 'Hidden Blade' You see these men for what they are straight off the bat. Both are far removed from each other in terms of what knowing who they are. Therefore, if you have seen either of those two aforementioned films, then you won't be surprised with the films pace. I highly recommend the film, it is a worthy addition to your cinema collection. [Stars: 5]"