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Twilight Samurai, The
The Twilight Samurai is in many regards a throwback to the bygone era of classic samurai films. The story it is telling is one that is more focused on character and the journey that is taken than it is on the sword fighting or samurai code. Directed by Yoji Yamada (The Hidden Blade), the film centers upon telling the story of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Seibei is impoverished and has so little that during the course of the story he must even sell his sword. He is the father of two young daughters and also must care for his mother, who cannot recall that he is her son. He is also a widower, who lost his wife to illness years before. In his daily life he wishes only to be a good father and son, to live his life with a sense of serenity. During the course of the story, Seibei also helps to save Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), who is an incredibly sweet-natured woman he has had affection for since they were childhood friends. Upon learning that Tomoe was married to an abusive husband, Seibei helps to save her and proceeds to help her leave her marriage.
As Tomoe stay's with Seibei and his family, she begins to help to care for his daughters and helps to look over the household. As the story unfolds, it's clear that Tomoe has a growing affection for Seibei and that Seibei also cares for her. Though Seibei has feelings for her he doesn't feel it could extend to love or marriage - or even that it should - both because he is poor and because of his determination to live a life of a peaceful samurai, which thereby would limit his ability to ever become a more wealthy samurai.
Seibei gets by with the small rations of food he receives from his clan. Unfortunately, it isn't enough for him to live his peaceful life as he would like to. Though Seibei has a abundance of skill as a samurai swordsman (and there are other samurai who know him by his skill with the sword) he is more of a pacifist who no longer wishes to fight as a samurai. He has no interest in partaking in the missions of his clan and wants to be capable of simply surviving and raising his daughters while looking after his mother. Unfortunately, the samurai clan has faced a new issue with a opposing samurai and feel he is a threat to them. Knowing the skill of Seibei, they call on him to kill the man and serve their samurai code. If Seibei does not agree to these terms, he will no longer be a part of the clan and will be left destitute with no food or income. Making matters more complicated, Seibei now wonders if he could live his life with Tomoe. In the matters of his heart, Seibei has decided to pursue love. Yet the mission ahead is a perilous one and he isn't even sure he will be able to return home alive to his family.
Director Yoji Yamada is most famous for his series of Tora-san films, but after making films for decades he found one of his greatest successes with The Twilight Samurai, which won acclaim in both Japan and internationally. The delicate style of the filmmaking is one of the large reasons behind the film's 12 Japanese Academy Award wins.
The style of the film is simplistic but beautiful and Yamada has a keen sensibility as a filmmaker that benefits the material. The film is never showy. Instead, it focuses on the characters (Seibei in particular), which allows for the story to be told in a way which feels more effective. There is a lightly delicate style in the pacing and flow of everything surrounding the film: it makes this a experience complimented by a more poetic and humble approach.
Hiroyuki Sanada delivers a remarkable performance as Seibei. Though I have been a fan of the actor for years, I was not familiar with his performance inThe Twilight Samurai until recently, when I finally experienced this magnificent filmmaking. This is a wonderful performance - one of Sanada's very best. It is marvelous to behold such fine acting.
The character is one that has a great deal of nuance and depth and there are ways in which Sanada extends the breadth of what surely must have been on the page in the script by Yoji Yamada and Yoshitaka Asama. With an impeccable sense of timing and great emotional core created for the character, Sanada's work is worth the amazing praise. The Twilight Samurai is able to find real beauty and depth in the character of Seibei. Sanada is the glue that makes this film come together so wonderfully by bringing that performance to life so triumphantly.
The Twilight Samurai arrives on Blu-ray with a disappointing presentation in High Definition, which is sure to let film fans down. The bit-rate of the encode is good and the effort seems to closely mirror a previously released HK Blu-ray edition, but this is not necessarily going to impress viewers. Despite a MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode, this isn't a solid presentation.
Frankly, the quality of this release feels as though it is defective. The issue at hand? Contrast and color reproduction. The contrast on this release is abundantly low and it is disappointing... colors look almost completely muted and not like the presentation was supposed to look like. A huge number of Japanese films released to DVD previously were delivered to America (and other foreign countries) with a different color/contrast range than Japan due to some technological differences. However, moving into the high definition domain, these issues should no longer prevail at all but unfortunately some presentations released in the US/UK still maintain these problematic contrast and color related issues. The result is that the film looks as though it has almost completely been washed out and the subdued color range not only detracts from the full scope of the cinematography but it changes some of the film's inherent style. This is a drawback most film fans will not enjoy.
Making matters worse for this Blu-ray release, some of these dramatic contrast issues have crept into other areas of the presentation, with some sequences having poor compression artifacts and grain reproduction problems which may not have been as negatively encoded and noticeable for viewers had the image presentation been properly readjusted to compensate for having these big contrast issues. In particular, some of the early scenes in the film suffer from distracting artifacts.
Viewers watching this disc can do two things to try and improve the image: change the setting available on certain Blu-ray players (including the PS3) to the 'RGB: Full' video setting . This should offer improved contrast more in line with how the film was intended to look. If this is unavailable as an option the other alternative is tweaking the contrast and brightness settings within one's HDTV to achieve a better, more accurate image. If viewers do not make any of these picture-quality adjustments for when viewing this Blu-ray release, be prepared for the contrast, color, and associated-compression related issues.
Not only does this disc have problems with these areas, but the film itself is actually a rather soft one without as much fine detail and clarity as one might typically hope for with the HD medium. Granted, the issue with the soft appearance is a source-related one and is not the fault of Twilight Time. Even if one does personal tweaks to the image to get more accurate contrast and color, the film remains inherently soft by design. Alas, there were times when this transfer seemed barely better than a DVD edition. However, in some parts of the film, the clarity of the high definition presentation was still apparent and appreciable. It's just too bad this encode is riddled with many problematic issues which could have potentially been adjusted prior to pressing.
If Twilight Time decides to revisit this title with a corrected disc for purchasers, I will be sure to update this review to reflect that information.
Thankfully, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation of The Twilight Samurai is not plagued with the same degree of problems that the video presentation had and it sounds rather nice on this release. The elegant sound of the music score suits the film presentation quite well. The dialogue is easy to understand. While this is a quiet film for the most part, the clarity of the sound is one area that certainly pleases. It's an often lush and satisfying audio presentation. (Though the film does, rather inexplicably, suffer somewhat from poor sound effects that certainly differ from what one would expect to hear with the film.)
Subtitles are provided in English. The quality of the subtitles impress and work quite nicely for the presentation.
The only extras on this release are the Isolated Score Track (which sounds quite splendid with its 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation), the original theatrical trailer (which showcases the film clips with better color reproduction than the actual film presentation despite a SD source), and a printed booklet featuring an essay on The Twilight Samurai written by Julie Kirgo.
The Twilight Samurai is a bold, richly layered, and nuanced samurai film which is all the more impressive because of the splendid performance by Hiroyuki Sanada. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. This is a solid dramatic entry which showcases many of the strengths of Japanese cinema. The film itself is one to cherish. However, the Blu-ray presentation is a disappointment that might not be worth purchasing (especially for those who already own the DVD release).
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.