Twilight Samurai, The (2002)

The Twilight Samurai (2002), directed by Yoji Yamada.

A poor samurai -- a clerk, not a soldier -- is so shabby and unkempt that he is an embarrassment to his clan. A widower, he dotes on his two young daughters and tries to care for his mother, far gone into dementia. He has no illusions about his place or the justness of his society, but quietly enjoys the beauty of the world.

When the sister of his best friend -- they were all childhood playmates -- reenters his life, he has to step forward to defend her from her drunken, bullying ex-husband. He duels with a wooden short sword because using steel would get him into more trouble.

This is always a satisfying moment in film, when the honorable man who doesn't want to fight is forced to do so and amazes us with his mastery.

Now he has more problems. Based on his performance the clan gives him an opportunity for advancement: times of political turmoil require assassins. He doesn't want the work, but samurai cannot refuse orders. Anything less than absolute obedience is not permitted.

A lot of these stories are about the individual fighting back against the code. In this case, our hero is so alienated from his culture that compliance is unjust and even insane. He doesn't want to fight, but what can he do?

It is more of a romance than a swordfighting film. We have only two combat scenes and neither goes as we might expect. He sits and talks with his second opponent, obviously sympathetic to him. They have similar life stories. It doesn't matter, there will be blood.

This is fine filmmaking, thoughtful and moving.

Hiroyuki Sanada has become a familiar face in movies and television outside of Japan.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

This disc has something seriously wrong with the grayscale and color saturation. It looks like a gross error in the transfer. I rented this and so did not see the Twilight Time booklet and do not know if they have an explanation.

DVDBeaver has comparative screen caps. Both Twilight Time and another Blu-ray edition from "Panorama (HK)" look worse than the DVD versions in color and black levels.