Saturday, April 14, 2007

Love and Honor (Bushi No Ichibun)

Eat a Bowl of Tea

Love and Honor is the concluding chapter to director Yoji Yamada's loose samurai trilogy. Personally, I have enjoyed the other two, Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade, because they are extremely well made, and have important stories to tell, rather than focusing its energies onto huge action sets with plenty of sword wielding, and Love and Honor is no different.

Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is a lowly Japanese samurai, who's employed by his clan as a food taster. It's a dead end job with zero job satisfaction, and Shinnojo reveals in a conversation with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) that he dreams of opening up a kendo dojo of his own, and recruiting students to teach regardless of their caste. It's a noble dream, but one that is cut short when he gets blinded during one of the food tasting sessions, eating sashimi made from fish which is poisonous when out of season.

Like its title suggests, Love and Honor is an intense love story based on those two themes. With Shinnojo handicapped, fears are abound within the family that without a job, they will lose their status and material wealth. And Shinnojo's growing negative attitude toward life doesn't help either. Stress befalls Kayo, and on the ill advice of her aunt, she seeks to find a powerful samurai Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando) to help them out of their plight.

No man enjoys his wife having to bring home the bacon on his behalf, especially not when it involves favours with another man who's vastly superior, not in feudal Japan. It's an interesting character study into the 3 characters, of love, defending of honor, envy, jealousy. And it all comes to an end in what I thought was a very touching finale. As mentioned, don't anticipate any sword fighting action to be a huge spectacle. Rather, the one here seemed to be rather rooted with realism. When it boiled down to the sword, every slash, parry, thrust seemed made with measurable consideration, with forceful purpose. Given Shinnojo's blindness, don't expect Zaitochi styled super-samurai feats, and in fact, Shinnojo's struggles are more to do with things from within.

Takuya Kimura, whom I last seen in 2046, has aged for this role. He looked mature and pretty much left his pretty boy days quite far behind to bring certain gravitas to his character. Rei Dan in a debut is on par with the recognizable female leads in the previous trilogy movies, and is excellent too in her role as like the other female characters, and a memorable one too. And not all's bleak in the movie, with Takashi Sasano's servant character Tokuhei bringing about some light hearted moments with his earnestness and wit.

Samurai movies have been possibly enriched by Yoji Yamada's trilogy contribution, and Love and Honor triumphs slightly over its predecessors to bring the series into a fitting close. Recommended!

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