Pros:A look at feudal Japan how most people lived. Intelligent, philosophical, and funny.
Cons:A little cluttered with too many interesting characters.
The Bottom Line: This is one of the most enjoyable Japanese films I have found in recent years, and I have found some good ones. Check it out.
Hana: The Reluctant Samurai (Hana Yori no Maho) (2006) Directed by Koreeda Hirokazu
Recommend this product?
Hana Yori no Maho means "Even more than the flowers" and refers to Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori's dying words, expressing his regret in dying. A samurai's life is often compared to the cherry blossom; beautiful, very brief and ephemeral.
Souzaemon Aoki or Soza-san (Okada Junichi) for short, is a samurai living in a row house (read slum) in Edo in 1702. He is there on a mission; to locate the man who killed his father. Kanazawa Jubei (Asano Tadanobu) is notable for a red mark by his right eye. Such a man lives in the row houses with his wife and children.
You would think this would be a recipe for a story of honor and vengeance. You could not be more wrong. Soza-san makes a little money, and derives great satisfaction by teaching writing and the use of the abacus to the inhabitants of the row houses. And they are a colourful lot. There is Sadashiro (Furuta Arata) the local middleman who is forever spotting the red spotted man at some restaurant or other. He gets a lot of free meals that way. There is the village idiot, Mago (Kimura Yûichi), and the widow Osae (Miyazawa Rie) and her son Shin-bo (Tanaka Shohei), Soza's prize student. There are assorted fish mongers, their wives, a druggist, poor peasants, and ne'er-do-wells. The entire feel is so very daily, daily, daily. You see one day in this place, and you suspect you have seen them all. And the people, if not exactly June and Ward Cleaver, look out for each other. More correctly, they mind each other's business, because gossip is what people did before TV.
Soza-San is something of an anomaly; why would a samurai live in a row house? But when local tough Sodekichi (Kase Ryo) trounces Soza in a sparring contest, some of it is made clear; his father may have been the head of a famous dojo for sword fighting, but Soza's swordplay stinks out loud. Is it cowardness that keeps Soza from doing his duty to his father's memory and returning home? Is it his attachment to Osae and Shin-bo? Or is it something more?
At the same time Soza- san is searching his soul, other events are playing out around him. The druggist and his friends are actually the servants of the Asano Daimyo. They have laid low for a year, and now, the time to claim their vengeance for their fallen lord is at hand. This will be the Akô vendetta, celebrated in history and legend as the finest moment of samurai valor.
Will the 47 Ronin win their place in history? Will Soza-san avenge his father? What will it cost him?
The contrast of Soza-san's pointless quest for revenge, and the gloriously noble and romantic actions of the 47 Ronin stand in sharp contrast. The 47 represent the old feudal way of thinking, where death is a beautiful thing to be romanticized and immortalized in poetry. Mean while, in the real world, where Soza lives, vengeance is the stuff you hear about in plays, it's a messy horrid affair that creates widows and orphans, and at its most positive is used to sell red bean jam buns.
This is feudal Japan as it probably really was. Poor, dirty, frequently tragic, but made bearable by the comedy of it all. This is stark contrast to the historical epics like Shogun, and the tough guy dramas like Yojimbo. It is even more on target than the more modern dramas like Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade. And it is this reality of prospect, and emotion that makes this a stand out performance.
It doesn't hurt that several of the players, including Soza-san are pop stars. Beyond their beautiful features, they are fine actors. The cinematography is brilliant, starting drab, and slowly gaining vibrancy as the year plays out. The sets are flawless, the costuming perfect, and the whole feel seems like we are peering back in time. Combined with the thoughtful philosophical story line, and the earthy day to day humor, this movie is one of the best I have seen come out of Japan in a long time. I highly recommend it.
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