Yoji Yamada

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Love and Honor Review


Excellent
The final film of legendary Japanese director Yôji Yamada's introspective trilogy of 19th-century samurai life, Love and Honor is as elegant and meditative as the two films that preceded it. Like The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade, it features intimate psychological drama rather than slashing swordplay. In fact, the movie has only one sword fight, and it consists of only three or four swings of the blade, but don't let that dissuade you. You won't be bored.

Mid-level samurai Shinojo (Takuya Kimura) is in a career slump. He finds himself working as one of five food tasters for the local samurai lord, making sure his boss's sashimi isn't poisoned. It's a living that provides him and his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) with a nice house, a large rice quota, and an old and loyal servant named Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano), but it's not too thrilling.

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The Twilight Samurai Review


Excellent
The Twilight Samurai is one of several intense dramas of 19th-century feudal Japan written and directed by the highly esteemed Yôji Yamada, whose eye for period detail and ability to turn what might otherwise be boring swordplay epics into intimate psychological dramas has earned his films all sorts of awards, including a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for this one.

Like Yamada's The Hidden Blade (2004), The Twilight Samurai takes a hard look at the declining fortunes of the samurai class as the Shogun period transitioned into the Meiji Restoration. Low-ranking samurai Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a widower with two daughters, Kayano (Miki Itô) and Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), and a senile mother. He lives a hardscrabble life, and rather than spend all night drinking with his brethren, as is expected of a good samurai, he tends to rush home to attend to his family and chores. That earns him the insulting nickname of "Twilight Samurai."

Continue reading: The Twilight Samurai Review

The Twilight Samurai Review


Excellent
The Twilight Samurai is one of several intense dramas of 19th-century feudal Japan written and directed by the highly esteemed Yôji Yamada, whose eye for period detail and ability to turn what might otherwise be boring swordplay epics into intimate psychological dramas has earned his films all sorts of awards, including a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for this one.

Like Yamada's The Hidden Blade (2004), The Twilight Samurai takes a hard look at the declining fortunes of the samurai class as the Shogun period transitioned into the Meiji Restoration. Low-ranking samurai Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a widower with two daughters, Kayano (Miki Itô) and Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), and a senile mother. He lives a hardscrabble life, and rather than spend all night drinking with his brethren, as is expected of a good samurai, he tends to rush home to attend to his family and chores. That earns him the insulting nickname of "Twilight Samurai."

Continue reading: The Twilight Samurai Review

The Hidden Blade Review


Excellent
Like his 2002 movie Twilight Samurai, Yoji Yamada's The Hidden Blade, set in the scenic mountains of northern Japan, is far more interested in samurai psychodrama than swordplay. The film features only one swordfight, and samurai Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) even tells his beautiful servant Kei (Takako Matsu), the secret love of this life, that samurai actually hate to use their swords and rarely even draw them. Schooled on all the glorious samurai legends, she simply can't believe it.

And those samurai legends may be starting to fade. In 1860s Japan, the samurai class is getting nervous as western ways, and western techniques of warfare, threaten their age-old traditions. Local lords are importing guns and cannons, and they hire coaches from the big city to come out and teach these "backwater bumpkins" how England fights. The results are delightfully comical, as the befuddled samurai try to figure out guns, struggle to march in step, and even run in the fashionable way. The trainer ably demonstrates that the western way of running, knees up and arms pumping, is much faster than the samurai way, which involves a lot of tripping over skirts. In one marvelous scene, a squad of 20 or more samurai demonstrate how to fire their new cannon for their lord. How funny that they feel the need to bow after each step. Load. Bow. Ready. Bow. Aim. Bow. Fire. Bow.

Continue reading: The Hidden Blade Review

The Hidden Blade Review


Excellent
Like his 2002 movie Twilight Samurai, Yoji Yamada's The Hidden Blade, set in the scenic mountains of northern Japan, is far more interested in samurai psychodrama than swordplay. The film features only one swordfight, and samurai Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) even tells his beautiful servant Kei (Takako Matsu), the secret love of this life, that samurai actually hate to use their swords and rarely even draw them. Schooled on all the glorious samurai legends, she simply can't believe it.

And those samurai legends may be starting to fade. In 1860s Japan, the samurai class is getting nervous as western ways, and western techniques of warfare, threaten their age-old traditions. Local lords are importing guns and cannons, and they hire coaches from the big city to come out and teach these "backwater bumpkins" how England fights. The results are delightfully comical, as the befuddled samurai try to figure out guns, struggle to march in step, and even run in the fashionable way. The trainer ably demonstrates that the western way of running, knees up and arms pumping, is much faster than the samurai way, which involves a lot of tripping over skirts. In one marvelous scene, a squad of 20 or more samurai demonstrate how to fire their new cannon for their lord. How funny that they feel the need to bow after each step. Load. Bow. Ready. Bow. Aim. Bow. Fire. Bow.

Continue reading: The Hidden Blade Review

Zero Focus Review


Good
The year is 1961, and in a wintry Tokyo train station, a young newlywed named Teiko bids farewell to her handsome new husband, Kenichi. Kenichi is concluding some business in the northern city of Kanazawa, promising a return on December 12, at which point the couple will begin their new life together. But, as Teiko waits, the 12th comes and goes and no word arrives from Kenichi. Soon Kenichi's employers are phoning, expressing first curiosity and then alarm. Teiko's only clue to her husband's whereabouts is a pair of strange postcards she finds among his belongings, each picturing a house in the snowy northern provinces. When her husband's employers invite her to Kanazawa to help them locate Kenichi, this naïve young bride soon finds herself embroiled in a mystery whose complications include prostitution, suicide, and maybe even murder.

It sounds a lot like Hitchcock, and there's a good reason for that. Adapted from a mystery novel by Seicho Matsumoto for director Yoshitaro Nomura, Zero Focus is one of several successful collaborations between the two that draw on Western-style technique to approximate the same atmosphere of suspense and danger for which Hitchcock was by that time already well known. That's not to say that Zero Focus is in any way a knock-off; Nomura had his own technique, and it was a good one. But the comparison serves to show how many of Zero Focus's devices - the mouse-trap plot, the slow reveal, our heroine's voyage from innocence to revelation - are familiar to moviegoers as Hitchcock's stock in trade.

Continue reading: Zero Focus Review

Yoji Yamada

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