do you get when you combine the labors of Hercules with Make Me Laugh in feudal Japan?
A disgraced samurai with a lot of deep bruising. Yet, his dignity will take the hardest hit in
Hitoshi Matsumoto’s physically demanding Jidaigeki dramedy Scabbard Samurai (trailer here), which screens this weekend as a co-presentation of the
2012 Japan Cuts and New York Asian film festivals.
Nomi is not even a ronin. He is a deserter,
who symbolically emptied his scabbard after his wife’s death from the
plague. He aimlessly roams the countryside
with his young daughter Tae, who makes no secret of the higher expectations she
had for her father. Thanks largely to
his thick head, they elude three distinctive looking bounty-hunters: O’Ryu the
Shamisen Player, Pakyun the Pistol Boy, and Gori Gori the
Chiropractikiller. However, his luck
runs out when the Tako Clan captures him.
than a quick execution, Kanjuro will have to face the “thirty day feat.” Like a Gong
Show Scheherazade, Kanjuro has thirty days to make the lord’s emotionally catatonic
son smile, or its hara-kiri time. At
first Tae is disgusted by the sight of her father performing belly dances and
shoving foreign objects up his nose.
However, when his well-meaning guards start coaching him, she also gets
with the program. As his stunts become
more elaborate Sisyphean exercises, the entire town rallies behind Kanjuro, but
Matsumoto is not going for the easy Hollywood ending here.
Scabbard’s period details
are passable enough, but they are hardly the point. Frankly, it is hard to think of another film that
mixes such liberal helpings of slapstick humor, maudlin sentiment, and high
tragedy. Yet, somehow it all blends
together easily in Scabbard. The impressively straight-faced Takaaki Nomi
is quite the good sport, putting up with all sorts of Fear Factor humiliation, while managing to maintain Kanjuro’s
dignified bearing. As Tae, Sea Kumada is
truly something else giving the old man what-for, but she is also shockingly
good in her big dramatic scenes. One-named
actress-model Ryō also brings an icy charm to the proceedings as the lethal
Kanjuro is no Sanjuro, that’s for sure. Yet there is something deeply heroic about
him. It is that unlikely integrity that
gives the film such a unique spirit. Sensitively
helmed by Matsumoto, Scabbard Samurai
is definitely not for the jaded, but that is what makes it such a nice surprise
at the overlapping festivals. Recommended
without reservation for those who appreciate earnest father-daughter stories,
as well as the odd pratfall, Scabbard
Samurai screens this Saturday (7/14) as a joint-selection of the 2012 Japan
Cuts and New York Asian film festivals.
Labels: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan Cuts '12, Japanese Cinema, NYAFF '12