RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
• Director Interview
• Cast Bios
• Program Note
• Theatrical trailers
In the great tradition of Japanese films, two people have absolutely no sex whatsoever and call it ‘love’.
Starring Somegoro Ichikawa, Yoshino Kimura, Mieko Harada, Ken Ogata, Takuya Ishida and Aimi Satsukawa
Written by: Mitsuo Kurotsuchi, from the novel by Shuhei Fujisawa
Directed by: Mitsuo Kurotsuchi
Bunshiro (Somegoro Ichikawa) is a young and serious teenager in a small provincial town during the Edo period of Japan. There is not much to do besides train in the dojo, hang out with his two best friends and occasionally talk to local girl Fuku, with whom he feels…something for. A series of events outside of his control leaves his family destitute and itching for revenge and years later, he stumbles into the most perfect chance to save not only his family, but the woman he loved so many years ago.
Okay, I’ll admit, when you receive a DVD from CHUD, especially one that you’ve never heard of, you’re wary. There is a reason this thing wasn’t released in theaters. You expect the worst, and so when the film moves you and grips you, like The Samurai I Loved does, well, it lays truth to the old adage that pessimists expect the worst, but can always be pleasantly surprised.
I am not the most knowledgeable in cinema’s samurai tradition (outside of Kurosawa), but The Samurai I Loved from director Mitsuo Kurotsuchi and based on a novel by prolific samurai author Shuhei Fujisawa (Twilight Samurai), may as well have been made by the Great One himself, it oozes traditional, timeless cinema. Long, slow shots of people talking comprise the film, with only one serious fight scene. The movie is concerned far more concerned with the characters, their feelings, their hopes and especially, their regrets, than it is thrilling the audience with bloodshed and derring do. So if the film starts out a little slow and aimless, stick with it, you will be rewarded handsomely for your patience. Split into two chapters, youth and older, each scene in during the characters’ younger days has a ramification in the future. So pay attention. You might think Kurotsuchi is wasting his time, wandering through the woods attempting to find a story, but he is simply laying the scene for payoff after payoff, like a cherry blossom that flowers at precisely the right moment.
Storytelling tradition dictates that the best way to foster a relationship between two characters is to keep them away from each other. ‘Absence makes the heart grows fonder.’ The Samurai I Loved does them one better, and practically forgets to get Bunshiro and Fuku together in the first place. Unrequited love does their relationship no justice whatsoever. Oddly enough, their love is the least developed thing in the film, despite the title. We know they’re in love because we know they should be, but the film’s first half, taking place in their youth, is far more focused on Bunshiro’s family woes than it is on the boy meets girl dynamic. Keep in mind, I am looking at this from a modern Western prospective and despite the obvious chemistry from both older and younger Bunshiro and Fuku, I never felt love in the way I generally define it. Their relationship pays off at the end with a brief but powerful conversation that lays bare the feelings each had kept bottled up for decades. It is a scene so touching and natural that I couldn’t help but well up. It’s ‘the one who got away’ reunion and it is everything how we would imagine such an encounter would turn out.
This is the Bunshiro show. Whether he is younger (Takuya Ishida) or older (Somergoro), it is supremely, 100 percent about him. He’s a flawed, wonderful character, a good man who’s been dealt a crap hand but tries to rise above it. The switch from young to older version is a bit jarring, as it is with all the characters, but the film handles the change, as it does everything, with grace and elegance. You see him go from hopeful, yet some realistic, to fiercely practical and the entire transformation is believable in an almost terrifying way. The film is almost a comment on growing old and putting away childish things as it is a tale of unrequited love.
More of a character in the younger chapter, Fuku nevertheless casts a long shadow over the main story, influencing the man Bunshiro becomes and, later on, the main thrust of the story. She is a, I don’t want to say stereotypical, but rather ‘archetypal’, Japanese woman: poised, sacrificing and very beautiful. She’s the kind of woman you spend your whole life regretting that you never said what you felt when you had the chance. Both Somergoro and Kimura can say so much with so little. They act in the eyes, both so wide and full of broken dreams and signs of a hard life. I think you could watch the movie without subtitles and still understand what’s going on, that is how subtle and powerful the actors are.
The supporting cast is great, they’re villains and friends, family and lovers. Kurotsuchi doubtless wrote extensive character histories for everyone, as each person feels as if they’ve had their own stories to tell.
The film is expertly composed and put together. Striking shots of sunsets, fields and tiny villages overcome with grass populate the scenes, creating a world that is both historic and fantastical at the same time. The cinematography gives The Samurai I Loved the timeless quality I spoke of above; it is as at home in the beginning of the 21st century as it would be in the middle of the 20th, at the height of samurai cinema.
The Samurai I Loved is, without a doubt, one of the best movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing for this website. It was nominated for several Japanese Academy Awards, all deserved, and won in several other festivals back in 2005. Most of the Asian imports tend to be hyperstylized, overviolent gangster dramas and while they have their place, it is refreshing to see such an elegant, beautiful and passionate film still being created from the land of Kurosawa, Ozu and the others.
The DVD comes with a smattering of trailers and promos as well as the all important image gallery and cast bios! Yeah! The most important extra is a brief but illuminating interview with director Mitsuo Kurotsuchi who cuts to the heart of the matter. He deeply loves this story, spending 15 years of his life on it, and even employing Kurosawa’s set crew to build the town. The man is passionate about all aspects of The Samurai I Loved, from the theme and images of nobility of the Japanese people, to the sets, to even the wind. Kurotsuchi himself seems like a wonderful, kind and intelligent man, a born director in touch with his story.
There is also a slideshow of program notes that helps to explain some of the untranslatable dialogue and gives the foreign viewer a better understanding of the time, place and characters, too.