****/**** Image D Sound D Extras B
starring Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi
screenplay by Yôji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama, based on the story of Shuuhei Fujisawa
directed by Yôji Yamada
by Walter Chaw Unforgiven for veteran director Yôji Yamada and the jidai-geki genre of samurai pictures, The Twilight Samurai is quiet, assured, a masterpiece of contemplative understatement. Its connection to Eastwood's film is more than just cosmetic, though, more than just another "Old West" film about an aging, widowed warrior called into action for something so quaint as the honour of a woman. No, The Twilight Samurai seems an apologia for the romanticization of violence and, moreover, for the elevation of the cult of masculinity out of the mud of bestial muck--where it at least in some measure belongs--and into realms of ritualistic divinity. There's a scene in The Twilight Samurai more powerful than its commensurate moment in Unforgiven that emphasizes this point as unassuming hero Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), without comment, steps over the flyblown corpse of a rival assassin in silent pursuit of his own quarry. The romance of end-of-era pictures like this (and literature as well; The Twilight Samurai and Unforgiven heavily remind of Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing) is that they can be pulled into a discussion of the passing away of youth as a man goes from early manhood's heady intoxication with the concept of chivalry to the more sober appreciation that true grit comes with providing constancy for your children in a world forever tilting towards alien territory. Though Seibei's nickname, "Tasogare" ("Twilight"), is a jab at his rushing home after clerk-work to tend to his demented mother and two young daughters, there's poetry in it as a description of a liminal magic hour where change looks not only more possible, but weighted with a lovely, gilded melancholy besides.