When The Last Sword is Drawn (Yôjirô Takita, 2003)


What's it about? Yoshimura is a poor, low-ranking samurai who is forced to leave his clan to look for work to feed his family. He gains employment with the Shinsengumi samurai, the elite police force of the Shogun, where he is viewed as a country fool interested only in money. However, despite appearances, Yoshimura soon proves he has the skills, courage and honour of a true samurai.

Is it any good? Like Yoji Yamada's Samurai Trilogy, this deals with the decreased status of the samurai in late 19th century Japan as the Shogun era declined under the Meiji Restoration and modern military warfare was introduced. However, where Yamada's films were small, intimate tales, this gives the same subject a more epic treatment, with a more complex story spanning several years. It is presented as a series of reminscences and memories of various characters, so it requires a little bit of attention to keep up, whilst the slow pace and lack of fighting may disappoint those looking for more action. However, the whole thing is anchored by a really strong performance from Kiichi Nakai, who convinces as both the simple, devoted family man and the steely-eyed, skilled killer. This, combined with some lovely photography, keep it interesting throughout.

Anything else I should know? Tom Cruise's film The Last Samurai dealt with pretty much the same topic in a similarly epic affair. This is better, however, because it feels more authentic and because it doesn't have Tom Cruise pretending to be a samurai.

What does the Fonz think? Samurais are almost as cool as me!


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