Movie Impressions: The Samurai I Loved (Semi Shigure)

I typically don’t bother wasting my time with romantic and sappy films, because the lot of them I feel are far too idealistic and frivolous. However, I will give foreign films dealing in genres I generally do not care for a chance since they tend to approach the subject manner in a far different manner than their Western counterparts – i.e. without beer and one-night-stands. When it comes to Japanese films I am instantly interested, as you have no doubt likely guessed by now judging from my previous published works on Popzara. I was given the chance to view the film The Samurai I Loved (originally Semi Shigure) based on a series of novels by acclaimed writer Shuhei Fujisawa and expertly directed by Mitsuo Kurotsuchi.

Having had no prior knowledge of the director before jumping into the movie, I had no idea what to expect, but was quite pleasantly surprised.  Released in 2005, The Samurai I Love follows a young boy named Bunshiro Maki, who lives a relatively peaceful live in a stereotypical Japanese rural town, until one fateful day when his revered samurai of a father becomes under suspicion for secretly supporting a lord from the rival clan. Because of his treachery, it is ruled that he will perform seppuku – in other words, suicide. While Bunshiro’s father is the one who will suffer the brunt of the shame of being a traitor, the entire family must suffer the wrath of the small rural community. Poor little Bunshiro is not even allowed to keep contact with his dear childhood friend Fuku, as her parents feel spending time with such a lowly family will only lead her down a path of destruction. Fuku’s family forces her to discontinue all communication with the Maki household and is sent to Edo to work as a maid under the local lord. All seems quite bleak for little Bunshiro and his future.

The film progresses into the future, where it is slowly revealed that Bunshiro has made a brand new name for himself in the community, having overcome his father’s shameful transgressions and free to explore the world around him. Time has not only been kind to him but to Fuku as well, as she is no longer Fuku-chan but the extravagantly beautiful Lady Ofuku, who is no longer a maid for the lord she served but now a full-fledged concubine heavy with child. It soon become obvious that Ofuku is unhappy in the position she is in, and the fief lord seems quite satisfied with using her in his plot for succession to gain land and powerful new followers. Bunshiro, now the respectable young man, must put all that he has earned on the line in order to take his place at the side of his childhood friend and lover so that both of them may yet achieve true happiness despite the sins his father committed so many years ago.

The Samurai I Loved offers up some truly introspective romantic dialogue as well as an intriguing plot, though you may find yourself reaching for the fast-forward button on your DVD remote at certain points as action sequences seem to drag on. Though primarily a romance film, there is plenty of violence and bloodshed to behold and if you’re not in the mood for any of that upon your first viewing of the movie you may find that it is a turnoff amidst the beautiful message that the filmmaker is trying to tell. With some absolutely tear-jerking scenes, however, the romance buff in you won’t soon forget the riveting tale of the unfortunate Bunshiro who must share in his father’s guilt and the concubine Ofuku. The ending should find you riveted to your seat as well, with one of the most emotional sequences I have seen in recent Japanese cinema.  If you find yourself nodding off through the action, stay involved at the very least for the truly beautiful ending.

The DVD package is accompanied with an interview with the director and various options for subtitling your movie. You can choose standard subs or you can go deeper into the experience with “enhanced” subtitles that offer more insight into the dialogue being spoken and notes on the culture at the time period in the movie, so even if you’re looking to just be entertained you may just learn a thing or two via AnimEigo’s expertly crafted subtitle tracks.

I found this to be quite the moving and involving film despite its rather slow segments that I could have done without. If you’re a fan at all of classic Japanese samurai films give it a look, as AnimEigo has done a fantastic job of bringing this movie to the masses. I know I will be anxiously awaiting more from this director.

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