Release Date(s)2002 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)Shochiku (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
Set in late 19th Century Japan, at a time when the country’s Feudal political and economic structure is gradually breaking down, The Twilight Samurai tells the story of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a low-ranking samurai struggling to fulfill his day-to-day duties managing his clan’s supply warehouses, while also raising two young daughters by himself and caring for his senile mother. Among his peers, Seibei is a disgrace. With no wife to help him, he smells bad, he’s always tired and his clothes are thread bare. Things gets better for Seibei however, when his childhood sweetheart Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) suddenly reappears in the village, having just left her husband – a cruel, drunken samurai who beat her mercilessly. Seibei has always loved Tomoe and she returns his feelings. She begins caring for him and his family, doing what she can to help him. But just when Seibei thinks life is finally looking up, his clan orders him to take up his sword and perform a dangerous assignment – one that could bring him honor and status at last... or result in his death.
Rarely does one see a modern samurai movie crafted with the kind of humanity and attention to detail that the great Akira Kurosawa brought to so many of his classic works, but The Twilight Samurai comes awfully close. Its depiction of a reluctant warrior who risks everything for honor, duty and love, is engaging and deeply affecting. In tone it reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. The film unfolds slowly, but everything we’re shown about the character of Seibei (his love of his family, his sense of duty) resonates powerfully in the final act.
When I first saw this film on DVD (a 2004 release by Empire Pictures), it was disappointing to have to endure that disc’s terrible A/V quality and lack of anamorphic enhancement. Thankfully, Twilight Time presents the film here in 1.85:1 aspect ratio 1080p video which, if not perfect or up to reference quality, is far better looking than any presentation of this film I’ve seen previously on disc. Yes, the image is soft looking and the contrast is less than optimal, with blacks that are a little grayish and sometimes lacking detail. But that’s very likely an issue of the original film elements. Nevertheless, textures and overall detailing are good and the color reproduction is accurate. The improvement in image quality here is sufficient that I’m quite happy with this presentation.
The audio is improved as well over the previous DVD offering (which was stereo only). The original Japanese language track is available in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s not a lively surround mix, but the dialogue is crisp and discernable, and the surround channels are used to enhance the atmosphere and the presentation of Isao Tomita’s score. Optional subtitles are available in English.
Tomita’s score is also available on its own isolated 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this Blu-ray. You also get the film’s original Japanese trailer in HD (but with no subtitles). The previous Empire DVD release included a couple of short interviews with Yamada and Sanada. I wish they were included here too, but the loss isn’t significant. If you have that original DVD, I would say keep it for the interviews as I’ve done – I just put the disc in a paper CD sleeve and tucked it into the BD case. The Twilight Blu-ray release also includes an insert booklet with good liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai is the rare modern samurai film that’s grounded in realism and aspires to be – first and foremost – a personal, intimate story. There’s a reason this film is rated 99% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a magnificent piece of cinema and is destined to become a classic of the genre. I was surprised and thrilled to learn that Twilight had obtained the rights to release this film on Blu-ray and I’m pleased with the result. The Twilight Samurai is just the first entry of what’s become known as Yamada’s Samurai Trilogy, which also includes The Hidden Blade (2004 – aka Kakushi ken: Oni no tsume) and Love and Honor (2006 – Bushi no Ichibun), all three adapted from short stories by Japanese author Shuhei Fujisawa. I’d love to see those films on Blu-ray from Twilight as well. Meanwhile, this disc is limited to just 3,000 units. Do yourself a favor and make sure one of them ends up in your library.
- Bill Hunt