Love and Honour

We are all used to our samurai flicks being full of adolescent-cool bloody slash action (think Zatoichi) or brooding masterpieces Akira Kurosawa (Ran) style. However, Japanese film-maker veteran Yoji Yamada (The Hidden Blade) breaks the mould with his latest offering which is a subtle tale about love, obligation and duty in Edo Japan.Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura, 2046) is a humble, low-ranked samurai leading a happy, albeit mundane, life as a poison taster to the lord of his clan. Unfortunately, the relevance of his job is proven when he is poisoned, leaving him blind. Despairing for their future and for her husband, wife Kiyo (big screen debutante Rei Dan) goes to the clan’s Chief Duty Officer, Toya Shimada (Mitsugoro Bando, Like Asura) to plead for help only to be taken advantage of. When Mimura finds out, he challenges Shimada, one of the clan’s best swordsmen, to a duel.The story is basic, but as you would expect from a film courtesy of auteur Yamada, painstaking attention to detail is present throughout. The layered and at times delightful cinematography, where clever lighting makes for some aesthetically challenging shots, to the gloomy narrative with its comic counter-foil played by Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha) and the servant Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano, A Hardest Night!) all makes for an immensely well constructed and well proportioned film that is as humble in look and ambience as the main protagonist. With its focus on character interaction, acting is all important. And on this count it does not disappoint. Kimura and Dan bear the moral and emotional burden admirably, with some poignant acting and genuine chemistry between the two, while the comedic elements lend a much-needed lighter touch.Adapted from one of Shuhei Fujisawa’s short stories, The Blind Sword: Echo of Vengeance, this film is a worthy conclusion to Yamada’s samurai trilogy. It is unfortunate that this gentle and quiet portrayal of love and duty is prevented from reaching the heady heights of a four star rating by the all too obvious and idealised ending—with clichés, warts and all.You’ll dig Love and Honour if you dig: The first two movies in the trilogy The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade…or if you are a SMAP (whichTakuya Kimura was its lead singer) fan—do you people still exist?