Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Celebrating Daughters, Samurai Style


When Dutch recommended the movie Twilight Samurai (2002) the other night, he took great pains to tell me that it was a drama. I didn't know what he meant. "Drama" is such a broad genre term that it only means negatives (not a horror, not a submarine movie, not a chick flick, etc). I sat down with only an expectation that there would probably be some martial arts scenes.

(spoiler warning!)

It turned out there were only two. Since I am not a huge fan of fight scenes, that number was no disappointment. The rest of the movie was utterly surprising and delightful. The titular character is no superhuman fighting machine. He had bad hair (gah! it looked like the men shaved their heads so it appeared they had male-pattern baldness), he was smelly, had ridiculous debt, a low salary, he was a petty samurai so his day job was keeping track the castle's supply of dried cod, he had no sons, his wife recently died of consumption, his mother had dementia and his farm was a mess. That was just the beginning of the movie. The way the dirty and unromantic past was portrayed reminded me a bit of Franco Zeffirelli's period films. Even the great fly fishing scene was marred by the bodies of dead peasants floating down the river.

The story is told through the eyes of his youngest daughter. It is clear they have a sweet relationship. He encourages her studies, they make cricket cages together and they have meaningful conversations. As the plot develops, the audience finds out that Sir Twilight (as he is called) is not as pathetic as he seems. He trained and taught in a famous dojo. He could have become a powerful samurai, but he chose a life as a clerk and a farmer so that he could be with his daughters.

Now I am getting verklempt.

Of course, any movie-viewer can see where this will lead (and I won't give away the surprise ending). What I found so moving is the portrayal of concrete, self-sacrificial love. Parental love is something I rarely see in cinema. Certainly, affection is portrayed when there are children in a movie, but I don't often see the difficult and non-glamorous choices that parents have to make for their children, and even more rarely, do I see good choices celebrated.

Every review I read of it said that it improved with multiple viewings. I couldn't agree more, its an excellent movie, with many layers, and a lot of caritas. Go see it.

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