Directed by Mitsuo Kurotsuchi
Starring Ken Ogata, Somegoro Ichikawa, Yoshino Kimura
“A leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
Animeigo continues to impress with their collection of jidaigeki (period drama) and chambara (sword play) films. The Samurai I Loved (Semishigure) was recently released on DVD and I happily gave it a try.
The film opens with beautifully shot images of the skies, softly blowing snow and rice paddies that surround a simple Japanese village. The audience is introduced to Bunshiro (Somegoro Ichikawa), a samurai that is trying to navigate the increasingly turbulent political nature of the area. His father was forced to commit suicide after getting caught in the disagreements between two powerful samurai retainers. His loyalties are tested every day and each day is more tedious than the one that preceded it.
He is in love with Fuku (Yoshino Kimura), the beautiful daughter of a neighbor. But, they are both too reserved to admit their feelings to one another. Bunshiro needs to reveal his inner emotions as Fuku is leaving the village to become the lord’s concubine, something she desperately does not want to do. It isn’t long before Bunshiro is snared in a deadly game between fiefs, a desperate situation his own father found himself in. This terrible situation also involves Fuku. What will win out in the end, love or honor?
The plot is revealed quietly and subtlety in this film just as the grass is revealed after the snow melts in the morning sun. This is not a film of relentless sword play and fights, although there is an exciting fight with a ninja army.
Rather, The Samurai I Loved is a meditation of unspoken feelings, love, honor and maintaining virtues in a changing world.
Through research I learned that the Japanese title of the film “Semishigure” refers to the sound of cicadas. This makes perfect sense as the director makes nature a prominent part of the story telling. In fact, in some scenes, the characters are shown small in the lower third of the screen, virtually surrounded by sweeping vistas of sky, mountains and spacious fields.
Since the ancient Japanese were agriculturists, they had reverence for nature, praying to “good” entities for their beneficence and to “bad” entities to not harm their harvests. Nature worship is the key element in Shinto, a religion that has had a profound influence on Japan. The co-existence of man and nature was an accepted fact and that feeling still exists today in Japan and it is that esthetic that is readily apparent in this film and in many other Japanese films.
The performances by all are wonderfully understated and of particular note Somegoro Ichikawa as Bunshiro and Yoshino Kimura as Fuku, who often had to express their unsaid feelings with meaningful looks and subtle gestures. Also, fans of Japanese cinema will be happy to note the appearance of Ken Ogata (Samurai Banners, The Hidden Blade) as Bunshiro’s father.
Mitsuo Kurotsuchi is known for directing visually stunning films and this film is no exception and if you are a fan of other films based on novels by Shûhei Fujisawa, who also wrote the novels upon which the films The Hidden Blade and Twilight Samurai are based, this film will not disappoint.
This is a film that belongs on the shelf of any fan of Japanese film. It is simply an enchanter.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is first rate and wonderfully presented. The overall image is highly detailed and vibrant. The black are respectable and the cinematography, a highlight in this film, is preserved and presented well.
The film is presented in the original Japanese language with English subtitles in Dolby Surround 5.1. Dialogue is crystal clear and well mixed.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Presented in a standard amaray Blu Ray case, the artwork suits the film presented well..
A few bonus features await your discovery on this release. First up, an interview with the director Mitsuo Kurotsuchi is included and is an entertaining listen. He reveals that he had such an eye for detail and was such an admirer of Akira Kurosawa, he sought out former members of Kurosawa’s team to build the sets.
Also included here is an image gallery, theatrical trailers, program notes and cast and crew bios.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 8/10
The Video 7.5/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10