Yôji Yamada's Samurai Trilogy

What are they about? Three samurai folk tales set in 19th century Japan during the fading days of Shogun rule. In The Twilight Samurai, a quiet, low-ranking samurai struggles to care for his family after his wife dies, until events force him to take up his sword once more. In The Hidden Blade, a similar character must stand against class prejudices and societal pressure to fight for the woman he loves. Finally, Love and Honour tells how the relationship between a samurai and his wife is threatened when he becomes blind and cannot work any more.

Are they any good? If you're looking for all-out action, hacked-off limbs and spurting fountains of blood, you better look elsewhere. These films are more interested in words than swords, each unfolding with an unhurried, gentle pace which develops the characters and realistically depicts the diminished status of the samurai during the decline of the Edo period. Samurai fans might be surprised to find the protagonists of these films are a far cry fom the warriors of legend. Here, they function as minor bureaucrats and servants in a crumbling feudal system, struggling to earn a living within a changing class system, a depiction which Yamada felt had not been represented properly on film before and which inspired him to make the trilogy.

That's not to say there's no action at all, though, since these men still retain their warrior's code, and when circumstances dictate that they must stay honourable to that code, they stand proud and fight, with all three films building to climactic duels. The showdown in The Twilight Samurai is tremendously exciting, the blink-and-you-miss-it speed of the Hidden Blade technique in The Hidden Blade awesomely cool and you'd do well not to underestimate the blind samurai in Love and Honour. And these climaxes are made all the more satisfying since the films have taken the time to make us care about the characters and what will happen them. All in all, a fine trilogy.

Anything else I should know? If you see only one, make it the award-laden The Twilight Samurai, which is excellent. The other two are not quite as good, but are worth seeing too. The trailers for The Hidden Blade and Love and Honour can be found here and here.

What does the Fonz think? A different class of samurai, but still classy.

Buy The Twilight Samurai on Amazon
Buy The Hidden Blade on Amazon
Buy Love And Honour on Amazon

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