The Twilight Samurai, on title alone, might seem like
an exercise in antiquarian ass-kicking, wherein an elderly warrior
gets righteous on many young punks—sort of an AARP Zatoichi—but
it’s actually about Seibei Iguchi (Sanada),
a middle-aged petty samurai fallen on hard times. His mom no longer
recognizes him, his wife is dead, his fellow samurai have dubbed
him “twilight” because of his habit of going straight
home after work each day instead of drinking with them, and—major
bummer here—the Meiji Restoration is just around the corner,
about to put him out of a job and social position. Though the 19th-century
samurai setting might seemingly make Twilight anachronistic—both
in content and in the context of the current Japanese film market,
which seems pretty indifferent to the genre these days—it’s
constantly historically minded, framing the whole story as the last
gasp of the old way of life (the whole point of the voice-over narration
provided by Iguchi’s daughter). Iguchi is more Last Samurai
than Tom Cruise himself. There’s even
a vague possibility that this is intended to serve as allegorical
commentary on Japan’s continuing problems with economic stability.
Naturally, since all Iguchi wants is to live his life in peace
and avoid conflict, trouble comes searching for him (a problem similar
to many Charles Bronson movies), first in the form
of Lord Kodo, the irate drunken ex-husband of his best friend’s
sister (and love of Iguchi’s life), and then from the clan,
which demands that he put his life on the line to eliminate a troublesome
retainer unwilling to kill himself in the aftermath of a factional
shake-up. Twilight is a drastic reshaping of traditional
cinematic samurai mythology, where a masterless warrior freely dispenses
violent justice. Instead, this is the samurai system as bureaucracy.
Though an expert swordsman, Iguchi hides himself in a grain warehouse,
spending his days taking inventory, and his nights making insect
cages for extra money. His colleagues are no more glamorous, concluding
seemingly every day with a bout of drinking.
There’s not much in the way of fighting. Characters here
do express themselves physically, but mostly through careful choreography.
Body language is everything in expressing hierarchal relationships.
The samurai sit as equals among themselves, but crawl and shuffle
stooped-over before their feudal lord. Iguchi walks quietly and
inconspicuously in his ratty kimono among his colleagues, but relaxes
and stands proud with his friend Iinuma (Fukikoshi).
And in the fights (there are a few), the tense circling before anyone
strikes counts for far more than the actual encounter.
Similarly, the film rarely exerts itself overtly. The first shot
after the opening credits is characteristic: a dramatic overview
of the countryside, accompanied by booming drums, but a pull-back
reveals the countryside to be framed by a window, and the drums
to be coming from inside, the mere exercise in time-keeping of a
sweaty samurai. Nothing is about to happen immediately, and the
main pleasures of Twilight Samurai are, mostly, of the
delayed-gratification variety. Some have found the film too methodical
and laid-back to make for easy viewing, but in truth it’s
uncomplicated and streamlined, showing decay and the end of an era
as dynamically as possible. And though the final fourth stretches
the boundaries of pacing a bit too much, it’s a mostly rewarding,
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...