"Twilight Samurai", 08-31-04
This Japanese film won many awards in its home country and was nominated for the US Oscar for best foreign film in 2002. These honors were well deserved.
The title character, Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada)is a poor samurai in service to a clan in rural northeastern Japan. His situation has been worsened by the death of his wife, which has left him in debt for medical and funeral services and the sole support of his two daughters and senile mother. He has become the mock of his co-workers at the castle Stores department because, instead of repairing with them to the tavern or geisha house after work, he disappears at twilight to work at home and to be with his daughters. His poverty and lack of care for himself has caused him to become shabby and unkempt, which leads to disgrace.
Sebei's life begins to turn around when he discovers that his childhood sweetheart, Tomoe, has divorced her abusive husband. when the boorish ex makes trouble at her family home, Sebei accepts his challenge to fight and defeats him in a duel. This earns Sebei more respect, and eventually leads to a difficult and dangerous commission beign thrust upon him when clan politics degenerate into factional struggle. In the brief interlude of peace, Tomoe becomes a surrogate mother to Seibei's children, and moves her family to offer her to Seibei as a new wife despite the difference in status. This leads to a crisis of conscience for Seibei, who has painful memories of his first wife's unhappiness in their poor state.
The story eventually resolves in an intensely personal drama that leaves you guessing what the final outcome will be. Unlike many samurai films, there isn't much combat, and what there is is not glorified. Excellent performances by Sanada and by Rie Miyazawa as Tomoe, and a very strong supporting role by Ren Osugi as Koda, the Guard Captain. Highly recommended!