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Hana yori mo naho

Hana yori mo naho (2006)

The only samurai movie with pink flowers on the cover

Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Writers: Koreeda Hirokazu
Date: 2006

Genre: Jidaigeki, Drama, Comedy
Description: Samurai’s revenge, honor and fidelity, the truth about life, irony of the samurai life, samurai deconstruction, comedy of life, finding a samurai way after war

Cast: Okada Junichi, Miyazawa Rie, Furuta Arata, Kunimura Jun, Nakamura Katsuo, Asano Tadanobu, Harada Yoshio, Kagawa Teruyuki, Tabata Tomoko, Kase Ryo, Terajima Susumu, Ishibashi Renji,

Crew of note:

Runtime: 126 mins.
Color: Color

Soza, a young, honest, and meek samurai spends his days among the impoverished of Edo as he tries to find his father’s murderer to regain his honor, and his lineage. There’s a problem though: Soza sucks with swords, and this becomes obvious quite quickly. As he interacts with the commonfolk around him, and even his father’s murderer, questions about his way of life, and conflicts within his being start to emerge. Will he regain his honor, or … not?

Revenge revenge revenge, it’s one of the staples of chambara. But I don’t think anyone really expects this to be a swordfight based on the director, the poster, or anything else anyone could see about the movie. So I guess it isn’t a spoiler to say, there is only one swordfight in the movie, and it isn’t anything to be excited about. And it’s a good thing there aren’t. Unlike Yamada Yoji’s recent trilogy that inevitably resolves itself with the sword, Koreeda is somehow able to create a true samurai film without the necessity for real blood. I suppose you can call it subversion, and it’s only the tip of that iceberg.

[Insert obligatory mention of how great the cast, script, direction, sets, costumes, music, etc. are]

This is a Jidaigeki because it’s set in Edo during the Tokugawa era, but Koreeda approaches his tale with as much insight, wit, humor and grace as his earlier, as his more celebrated works (Daremo shiranai and Maborosi) set in the modern world. In fact, even though the main conflict in the movie is typical of the samurai genre (ninjo vs giri, honor and fidelity, etc), I found myself being able to relate to Soza more than any other protagonist I’ve spent time with (can you really relate that much to Mifune?). I’d like to avoid discussing the word “deconstruction” even though it’s commonly thrown at this film, but I disagree. This is the voice of the samurai whose story isn’t told, whose exploits aren’t as memorable as the Ryonosukes’, the Musashis’, the unnamed Ronins’. But samurai are human too, and Soza perhaps, lives one of the most human lives of them all.

Wasn’t my review enough to convince you? Koreeda works his magic. Once you’ve seen enough 50s-70s chambara and Jidaigeki, see this.

things to take note of
The Chushingura tale in the background of the movie (no it’s not a subplot and no it isn’t underdeveloped), and its significance
How the neighborhood feels a lot like the one in Ninjo kami fusen / Humanity and Paper Balloons by Yamanaka Sadao, or maybe that’s just me
Miyazawa Rie is so lovely :,(
Soza’s personality, conflict, and resolution
The subversion and deconstruction people keep talking about

best moment
The finale! Definitely one to remember

why you should watch this
Light, amusing, witty and meaningful
Shows a lot of insight into samurai life and its ironies (and loopholes?)
One of the best Jidaigeki from the 2000s (yes, better than Yamada Yoji’s)
I can’t remember the last time I was amazed at a Jidaigeki’s script

rating: 8.9

Plot: A
Cast: B
Cinematography: C+
Music: B+
Entertainment: A

similar movies, maybe:
Tasogare seibei / Twilight Samurai
Bushi no ichibun / Love and Honor
Kiru! / Kill!
Samurai Fiction
Ame agaru / After the Rain

Kiru / Kill!

Kiru! / Kill! (1968)

Possibly the most spoiler-free cover ever

Director:Okamoto Kihachi
Writers: Yamamoto Shugoro (novel), Murao Akira, Okamoto Kihachi
Date: 1968

Genre: Jidaigeki / Chambara
Description: Killing, assassinating evil, backstabbing, traitors, double crosses, complicated plot, subversion of the genre, friendship, the samurai

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takahashi Etsushi, Kubo Naoko, Kishida Shin, Tamura Nami, Nakamaru Tadao, Tsuchiya Yoshio, Tono Eijiro, etc. etc.

Crew of note: Score by Sato Masaru

Runtime: 114 mins.
Color: BW

Genta, a world weary yakuza, meets Hanji, a farmer who has sold his land for a sword in order to become a samurai, along a dusty road of an abandoned town. They part, with the latter wishing to become employed by Ayuzawa Tamiya. It turns out that 7 samurai from his clan are hiding out in town in order to assassinate one of the clan’s higher-ups. Naturally, Genta gets mixed up with this bunch, and he must use his smarts to save them from themselves.

PS. The plot is too convoluted, and too exciting, to reveal in detail in a summary.

Whoahooo. This is one crazy movie. Part parody, part deconstruction of samurai lore, part epic chambara, there is just too much fun and intelligence in this movie not to recommend it to everyone. There will be some comments about how out of place or shallow its comedy is, but if you know enough about Japanese history, the chambara film genre and this film’s contemporaries, and Okamoto’s other films such as Akage, you will be able to pick up on a more substantial level of laughter. Many of Kiru’s funniest moments aren’t even jokes; it is simply the situation the characters find themselves in, and the events that seem inevitable to take place. In fact, the pace of the movie is perfect, and none of the twists seem absurd, even though this film somehow relies on the absurdity of the period it is set in.

A great performance from Nakadai that ancors everything. He is almost like a switch, moving from feigning cluelessness, to noble samurai, to sneaky yakuza, to badass swordsman in only one expression or less. Everything he does seems natural, and his transformation into the character is amazing. His expressions, his slightly absent gaze, his awkward, teetering stance and walk add to his portrayal. He has never been this funny, and if you’ve mostly seen him as a badass samurai (Dai-bosatsu toge, Goyokin, Kagemusha, etc.), the change really is quite amusing. The supporting cast full of strange personalities and quirks also do well. The gambling head priest, the innocent and unambitious old chamberlain, the fidgety constantly moving henchman… characters so out of type yet fit into the world Okamoto creates.

If you watch this as an entry into historic, period-correct, existentialist chambara, this might not work for you. But if you’re up for some funny deconstruction, this is a must see.

Perhaps not a starting point for those just getting into chambara, but this should definitely be in everyone’s “to watch” list. Maybe after you’ve seen 20 or so important films in the genre, and have read enough about the period and its culture, this will be a great experience.

things to take note of
Nakadai’s performance
Genta’s comments and insights into the situation
The against-stereotype characters
How many times they say “kiru” (in any of its forms)

best moment
Hanji’s conclusion about his wish

why you should watch this
One of the funniest chambara ever
A great genre piece that defies expectations
My favorite Okamoto, beating out Akage and Dai-bosatsu toge

rating: 8.5

Plot: A
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B
Music: B
Entertainment: A

similar movies, maybe:
Akage / Red Lion
Hana yori mo naho



November 2020