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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
Trivia:

summary
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?

review
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.

conclusion
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

scorecard
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

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Taki no shiraito / Water Magician

Taki no shiraito / The Water Magician (1933)

Hard to make a joke when they look that serious

Director: Mizoguchi Kenji
Writers: Izumi Kyoka (novel), Higashibojo Yasunaga, Masuda Shinji, Tateoka Kennosuke
Date: 1933

Genre: Drama
Description: A real love story, honor, to repay one’s debt, great kindness, an amazing woman, pure heartbreak

Cast: Irie Takako, Okada Tokihiko, Miyake Bontaro, Taki Suzuko, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 110 mins.
Color: BW, Silent + Benshi
Trivia: Irie Takako was 22 when this was made. Amazing.

summary
Taki no Shiraito, a famous water magician (a circus attraction with water fountains), falls in love with the reckless, young Kinya or Kin-san, a poor student working odd-jobs to continue his law studies. He loses his job as a stagecoach driver after an incident with Taki no shiraito, but when they meet again, the woman swears to support Kin-san until he graduates. They part as she rejoins her troupe, and inevitably, they are destined to meet again.

review
Being a Mizoguchi film, you already expect complete and utter heartbreak. Although this is very early in his career, the fact that the movie already shows the great insight he has into the life of the woman is already striking. It is perhaps even more heartbreaking than all of Mizoguchi’s other movies because of its simplicity and lack of any overwrought circumstances. In fact, all the events in the movie are perfectly set up and foreshadowed; unlike many tragedies, the twist or cruel hand of fate is not arbitrary or pulled out of the director’s ass.

Amazing acting, even though there is the use of benshi (narration and voice over). I would have loved to have heard Takako’s voice. When she cries, in silence, dear lord it is probably one of the most amazing moments in silent film. Her face, the shot, the lighting, perfection. The relationship between the two leads is really what the movie is about, punctuated by their acting; some of the best in Japanese silents.

Although the movie is improperly preserved, there are many admirable shots, including the bridge scene (Tomo below, Kin-san above), and the talk between the two in the dark. And although this is a tragedy, the movie never frames them as failures; this is not a movie about how love succumbs to tragedy, but rather, the true success of kindness, honor, and love.

And the love between them is beautiful.

PS. Many will say that, like most Mizoguchi, the movie has a sad ending. I disagree. It is the perfect ending given the circumstances: their love, their honor, their duty to one another is preserved, is fulfilled.

conclusion
Not one of his more popular films, but my favorite Mizoguchi for a reason. Intimate, lovely, and a true story of love and honor.

things to take note of
The ending – why it absolutely had to end that way
Shots in the dark
Takako’s facial expressions

best moment
The bridge
When Taki no shiraito cries

why you should watch this

rating: 9

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Mizoguchi films about how amazing women are

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