The Twilight Samurai
The Twilight Samurai
is a gentle and unassuming work from long-time Tora-san
director Yoji Yamada. With muted color tones, blunted lighting, and low-key drama Yamada brings to a period samurai picture the air of wise revisionism. It is a delight and a relief to find such a grounded work in highly saturated cinema. Though its reflection on pre-Meiji Japanese feudalism is not rare the clarity of the plot and Yamada’s unfussy direction lends a relaxed freshness to the film.
The title refers to ‘Twilight’ Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a low-rung samurai retainer practically bankrupted by his wife’s recent funeral and just barely making ends meet supporting his senile mother and two young daughters. Seibei is nicknamed because of the mystique of his modest and retiring demeanor, emblemized by his habit of going straight home from work at sundown instead of
going drinking with his co-workers. Coupled with the decline in personal hygiene due to financial burdens and his wife’s absence, Seibei is unfortunately looked down upon not just because of his meager position but also because of the careless way he carries himself. The solution to his family’s problems seems simple enough-take in a new wife-but Seibei’s low stipend and his humble consideration of a potential bride’s feelings rule out the possibility. An air of breezy melancholy pervades the film, especially when Seibei’s childhood friend Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) divorces her husband and reappears in his life, doing laundry and cleaning up the house, playing with his daughters, and otherwise lightening the atmosphere of accepted glumness in the Iguchi household.
The film’s criticism for the feudalistic era comes from the innate goodness in Seibei’s character and his impossibility of finding a place in society. He takes more pleasure in tending to his growing daughters and farming the land than performing duties as true retainer. After working in the castle by day Seibei is financially forced to take on the common but disreputable
practice of moonlighting as a meager artisan by candlelight. Despite his formidable fighting skills, Seibei’s class-less ambition places him at the borderline between the warrior elite and the humble and content peasant; an undesirable place that foreshadows the Meiji Restoration but shortchanges the good men like Seibei who had to endure the position before the revolution.
To highlight this understated work Yamada uses deliberately low-key lighting and a highly natural set design of darker hues that continue Twilight Samurai
's themes of underplaying the period drama. The title itself has a double meaning, also acting like the titles of one of Yasujiro Ozu’s later works that in their simplicity celebrate a time of year at the same time mourning seasonal change. The same can be said for Yamada’s work. With its unperturbed long takes and light somber touch the film is saddened by Seibei’s situation as much as it celebrates his strength of character. From his character comes a common drama, but it is the common ones that say the most about their times and Yamada’s unusually placid touch on the samurai film makes a common story well worth watching.