Love and Honor (2006)
Sneaking into the ImaginAsian Theatre this weekend is septuagenarian Japanese director Yoji Yamada's latest, Love and Honor. It is the third part of a thematically linked trilogy that documents the Samurai code clashing with modernity, all of which were adapted from the novels of Shohei Fujisawa. The other two in the series are The Twilight Samurai (2002) and The Hidden Blade (2004). I greatly admire both, and stumbled upon this third release glancing at the NY Times' reviews section. Needless to say, I raced to the theatre, bought some Pocky, and took in an intelligently mounted melodrama both dramatically and stylistically satisfying. The story percolates nicely, as low-ranking Samurai Shinnojo Mimura (an electric performance by pop star Takuya Kimura (here he is advertising Levi's)) scuffles as a food tester for the local Lord. Then one day he chomps into a posionous shellfish, and he goes blind. Emotions burble, framings are precise, katanas get polished, and the plot flows smoothly until the ritualized duel that may restore Shinnojo's dignity. This duel is present in all three films, and all are a matter of pride, trying to hang on to the Samurai Code that disappears soon after Commodore Perry landed near Tokyo in 1853.
The leisurely pace allows the great cast that surrounds Kimura to add depth and detail to his world - his servant Takuhei (Takashi Sasano) is both trusted confidant and house jester, and Sasano steals the film with his fidgety, stoop-backed, and thoroughly graceful performance.
Along with James Mangold's recent 3:10 to Yuma, it stands as a consistently entertaining throwback - a classically structured and filmed drama that honors its forebears without seeming like a museum piece. A rare feat!
Labels: Yoji Yamada