Director Yoshihiro Nakamura blew Fantastic Fest audiences away in 2009 with his movie Fish Story and then, last year, he returned with the ultimate conspiracy thriller, Golden Slumber. Now he takes a radical turn and brings us….a family film? This movie does make you laugh, and makes you hungry to boot. A Boy and His Samurai is a fish-out-of-water tale with heart, and features an interesting ending. Also, the cutest little boy you will ever see is thrown into the mix. Well, for this reviewer, this is a combination of that great Japanese comedy, Tampopo, and France’s most successful film ever, Les Visiteurs (without the manic). It wins by reaching out and touching both the heart and the soul – it has many small touches that are simply fun, funny, and genuinely moving.
If you noticed on the main page there is a displayed image of baked goods. If you were scratching your head in confusion, one day Yasube starts to make pastries for Tomoya, which leads to Yasube become popular patissier. In the process the three become very close, but the moment they must say good bye also draws near. Surprisingly, Kijima’s samurai discipline lends itself to domestication well. The setting, however, is beautifully realized. Despite one cute scene with white chocolate transformed to snow, the interpersonal relationships, notions of displacement, role, and work-life balance are all under-realized in the end. Sadly, A Boy and His Samurai felt longer than its 108 minute running time for a variety of reasons, and by the second half I was looking at my watch. Yasubei never stops to take stock of the Japan he has lost, and a lot of the time is spent waiting for the outsider to fulfill the tropes, as if it’s a contracted obligation.
Now what about conflict? Well that comes in too since it follows a tried-and-true comedic formula. Well, easily enough, they are able to conclude that Yasube is from another time – each of them have severe culture shock regarding the other. Yasube is shocked that Hiroko is a single mother, that she’s divorced, and that she was the one who forced the divorce. Even more shocking to Yasube, is that Hiroko does not stay at home, that she goes out and works. I know, a hard working, independent woman. Crazy!? This is a very good movie with solid acting, especially by the three main actors, but I don’t know why this is billed as a comedy because the situation isn’t played for laughs too often due to the sexism of the characters. In fact, some women may downright be offended by this film I would imagine.
Sorry for those who were tricked into thinking this was an action film. A Boy and His Samurai is an enjoyable little romp that will keep you smiling. For those women who I guessed would be offended by this film in the last paragraph, make sure you give it a chance because it is also a film that portrays a strong woman as a single mother who, while harried and busy, is not defined by her lack of a man or guilt over not being at home more often. On the other hand, the story is also about a boy, who lacks a father figure, then finds one unexpectedly. This is a film that western children will enjoy because they’re going to watch a peer, the 5-year-old Tomoya, handle his role so well. For me, this is the first film I saw at Fantastic Fest and it had my mouth watering for more films. Needless to say, I walked away satisfied!