The Twilight Samurai

(Tasogare Seibei, Yoji Yamada, Japan, 2002)


It is not every day that one sees a politically correct samurai movie. But that is what Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai manages, fairly persuasively, to be – and it is a welcome antidote at a time in which the emptiest, most sadistic action movies from Asia are welcomed as hearty fun.


Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) is not the typical warrior type. He has not fought in a long time and, as a single father, he cares more about the raising of his two daughters than about any macho posturing among his colleagues. Although Seibei has some personal hygiene problems, he is a progressive soul; he even impresses upon his girls the value of education, much to the chagrin of his superiors.


Seibei is not one to issue challenges or start duels. But when he becomes friendly with Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), he incurs the wrath of her drunken ex-husband. So this reluctant fighter must brush up on his special samurai teaching and go into battle. And once outed for his skill in the area, it will be hard to put down that lethal wooden sword.


This is a gentle, at times melancholic drama. The moments of action are expertly but discreetly staged. There is more intensity invested in conveying the difficult path of Seibei and Tomoe’s love: although she is the prototype of the new, independent woman, he is too shy and self-conscious to take the situation further.


The Twilight Samurai serves as a salutary reminder of why it is often better to watch films projected on a big screen rather than squeezed onto a television or computer. All of the film’s virtues – its pacing, its sense of landscape and space, its aura of stillness and silence – can only truly be appreciated in a cinema; in any other format, these qualities would be quite lost.

© Adrian Martin August 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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