Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a samurai of the lowest rank. His income is miserable and he has to take care of his two daughters, as well as for his senile mother. The death of his wife deprived him of his only savings, but Iguchi gets hope and pleasure out of the fact that he can watch his two daughters grow up. Director Yoji Yamada seemingly comes out of the blue and creates a fantastic modern samurai flick.
Despite being a lowly-ranked samurai, life is adequately comfortable, in an era of change and the coming of the end of the Meiji era. His life takes a turn when childhood sweetheart, and recent divorcee Tomoe Iinuma, re-enters his life. Protecting her from her violent ex-husband, love is rekindled between the two again, but Seibei, conscious of his low ranking status, is reluctant to declare his true feelings for Tomoe.
If you’re expecting to see many swordplay from the Twilight Samurai, you might be a tad disappointed. There are only 2 fight scenes in this film, one with Seibei using a wooden sword to teach Tomoe’s ex-husband a lesson, and the other, a fight to the death with a clan rebel in the confines of an old house. The violence, while still dished out in sharp bursts, has a very real quality typically ignored by big budget martial arts productions: a perfect illustration of which has Seibei, towards the end of the movie, step over the body of a slain samurai assassin who is now frozen in rigor mortis and covered in flies. Somehow, by infusing the film with such ‘realism’ the story gets anchored and becomes more authentic.
Although the movie easily could have run the risk to be slow-paced or even tedious with its running time of 129 minutes, the director succeeds in telling this extraordinary tale by pinpointing the essence of what he wants to say through the life of the characters. “The Twilight Samurai” isn’t only Iguchi’s nickname, but also describes the era in which he is living. The world is facing a new dawn, a world in which samurai serve no purpose anymore and don’t have any right of existence. It is beautifully filmed, and is no wonder that it was was recognized with many awards in Japan’s Academy Awards in 2004. This is a simple and yet very complex masterpiece of a drama, that you shouldn’t miss. Recommended.