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    Yamada's Twilight Saga

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Upon its opening in its native Japan this day 13 years ago, The Twilight Samurai (2002) was judged a high watermark for its director Yôji Yamada, who’d been making films for over 40 years but was largely known only in Japan. But this autumnal tale of the redemption of a shabby mid-19th century “petty samurai” struck a major, personally relevant chord not only in its director/co-screenwriter but also in the world film community at large. Such was its acutely perceptive depiction of life and community relationships in the Japan of that period that The Twilight Samurai won 12 Japanese Academy Awards including Best Picture and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award®. That the lowly clerk Seibei (played by Hiroyuki Sanada, who appeared in The Last Samurai and the original Japanese Ring and Ring 2 and co-stars in 2015's Mr. Holmes), mocked and humiliated within his village and struggling to get by as the Samurai tradition entered its own twilight, would become his clan’s standard bearer in a clash with a rival clan’s renegade warrior proved to be a tale with profound resonance. Ty Burr of The Boston Globe hit on its essence when he reviewed the film – calling it “the anti-Kill Bill” – during its 2004 U.S. theatrical release: “This is an old man's movie in all the good ways: gentle, humanistic, rich with observation, quietly aware of all that can't be solved by the sword. It has the sturdy bones of a classic, as if legendary director Yasujiro Ozu had taken on the task of directing High Noon.” In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert drew a comparison to the film’s director, whose prior fame rested largely on his 48-movie Tora-san series (1969-1995) about the comic capers of a bumbling salesman. “One can only imagine what it would be like to direct that formula 48 times. Perhaps Yamada felt a little like Seibei, as he remained loyal to the studio and this character year after year,” Ebert wrote. “Perhaps when Seibei finds, at the end of The Twilight Samurai, that he may be poor and stuck in a rut but he still has greatness in him – well, perhaps that's how Yamada felt when he entered the home stretch. There is a kind of perfection in laboring humbly all your life only to show, as the end approaches, that you had greatness all along.” The Twilight Samurai and The Little House, Yamada’s 2014 study of a family at the crossroads of Japan’s cultural upheaval in the war-shadowed 1930s and ’40s, are marvelous proofs of that greatness, both available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays.