This movie lived up in every way that I thought it would and actually exceeded those hopes. Yamada Yoji's final installment of his samurai trilogy is a film that captures the human spirit at it's most trying times with a story that encompasses a lot of which the human heart is capable of. What is readily evident about Yamada' films is the realism that he brings to the samurai figure and unlike other films which tend to create a larger than life image, Yamada shows the viewer the human qualities of these characters with moving and dramatic fashion. Yamada's pacing and dialog are also a style all his own and he really fleshes out the characters giving them depth and the viewer true compassion and understanding of their emotions. Kimura Takuya stars as Mimura Shinnojo who's a samurai serving as a poison taster for his lord which sits at a kind of upper middle class status within the ranks. His wife Kayo and long serving servant Tokuhei are also central characters.
The story gives an in depth look into the effects a tragedy involving a husband and wife have as the themes of love, honor, devotion, betrayal, revenge, regret, and redemption are explored deep within the human soul. When a devastating event occurs to Shinnojo the true human heart is revealed in powerful fashion as a domino effect is put into place, some of it natural and some of it devious. This film will make you reflect on what life holds when you're put into a situation where you're struck with helplessness and how those around you are affected as well has how you handle your inner demons. Furthermore the loss of love, feeling of betrayal, an act of guilt, and how the human spirit can rise through the hardest trials of life dealing with regret and forgiveness. These emotions aren't limited to the main character as you may have guessed but rather lend themselves throughout the story within different dynamics and situations.
When one thinks of a samurai film and immediate image is most likely in one's mind of what to expect. Here you will find a much different film from that image. A film not based or keyed on numerous fight sequences but rather a build up of story and tension which ultimately leads to redemption. Bushi no ichibun presents the viewer with something perhaps a bit more grand than that image I spoke of. The art of the human spirit. Explored at it's darkest hour.
I recommend this film with complete confidence that you will enjoy it and that you will also gain some insight from it. Cinematography, acting, dialog, and pacing are all excellent as Yamada has directed another masterpiece. I was deeply moved and I'm sure you will be too.
Here I must warn that there are spoilers following this point! If you wish not to read or see any then you must proceed no further! While the final outcome of the film isn't revealed a lot of other aspects of the film are both visually and verbally displayed below.
Kimura Takuya plays Mimura Shinnojo who is a samurai employed as a poison taster for his lord. He lives with his wife Kayo (who's beautiful!) and his long time servant Tokuhei who presents a lot of the movies lighter moments which will make you laugh and smile. While Shinnojo routinely performs his job of poison tasting an incident occurs one day as red tsubugai sashimi was prepared as part of the lord's menu. Shinnojo falls ill with a fever and into a coma as a result of the toxins from the shellfish which was later determined to have been prepared out of season making it toxic with consequences even involving death at times. Another effect of the toxins can be blindness and Shinnojo falls to this terrible ailment. The dynamics and human emotion are well written as Shinnojo learns of this permanent ailment along with his wife Kayo's struggle to reveal this to him reluctantly and the consequences and bonding of that trust which follow. He falls into deep dispair and contemplates suicide as he feels that his life has no meaning or use anymore to anyone. Kayo's words bring him back from his darkness as she expresses her devotion to him and undying love unconditionally.
Enter Shimada Toya who has learned of Shinnojo's situation and offers to help Kayo and her husband out of their predicament by using his high status to help influence the council to financially support them even with Shinnojo being unable to be employed. Shimada confesses his past fancy of Kayo to her as he invites her to visit him if she desires his aid. As the financial burden looms Kayo turns to Shimada for help and visits him.
Shinnojo learns from his uncle that it was decided that his stipend will be continued and that he can remain in his home as his welfare will be looked after in good faith of his deeds. Shinnojo later hears that Kayo was seen with a high ranking samurai and while he refuses to believe that Kayo is capable of such an action it still dwells upon him and he ultimately sends Tokuhei to follow her. Although Tokuhei doesn't intend to tell Shinnojo of what he witnessed, Kayo having seen Tokuhei follow her wants to tell him knowing that she can't keep it hidden from him. Shinnojo learns that it was Shimada Toyo that Kayo has been visiting and she tells him in detail of how he promised to help their situation if she agreed. Kayo visits him with naive expectations as Shimada takes advantage of her and threatens to tell Shinnojo of her visits if she refuses to return. (Keep in mind that the emotions involved throughout I'm not describing throughout this plot walk through.) Kayo reveals that she's done it for him and offers her life as she has betrayed him with this affair. Shinnojo divorces Kayo and sends her away despite her having no family or home to go to. Tokuhei pleads but the situation has been decided.
Shinnojo later learns from a fellow squire that the council had decided to continue his stipend and that the lord wanted to take care of his well being after considering how Shinnojo had saved his life. Further Shinnojo learns that Shimada had no hand in this decision as Kayo was led to believe. Shinnojo sends Tokuhei to deliver a message of a duel to Shimada personally which will occur on the next day, also stating to not underestimate his blindness.
Shinnojo now sees that Shimada deceived Kayo and used her and has now challenged him to a duel in which he's unsure if he can win. This uncertainty is overshadowed by his resentment of Shimada's actions and his need to redeem Kayo. He now feels regret for sending her away and this action even if it is his final one is something that he must pursue. Shimada is well trained in the art of the sword and knowing this Shinnojo sets off with Tokuhei for this life defining duel.