Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Japan Cuts ’16: The Magnificent Nine
the late 1500’s the Seven Samurai used swords to defend a beleaguered village.
Three hundred years later, the pillars of an oppressed post-town will use
accounting as their weapon of choice. Their plan to save their community will
take years to implement and will cost some members dearly, but desperate times
require desperate measures in Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Magnificent Nine (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
Sugawaraya has just returned to his provincial home with a new bride and an
official license for his prospective tea farm. However, as a resident of a “post-town,”
he is responsible for his share of the costs conveying their lord’s shipments
to the next unfortunate post-town. It is a crushing burden that has reduced
their community to a virtual ghost town. Over sake, Sugawaraya hatches a
hair-brained scheme and he quickly dismisses, but desperate merchant Juzaburo
Kokudaya takes it to heart. Eventually, Kokudaya convinces Sugawaraya and seven
progressive town fathers to pursue the plan in earnest.
the lord is clearly strapped for cash, the townsmen intend to loan him one
thousand silver ryo. The annual interest of one hundred silver ryo would cover
the cost of horses and labor necessary to uphold the town’s post duties.
Essentially, the loan would act as an endowment. Of course, scrounging up that
much money is no easy feat for the profoundly depressed community. Even if they
do, the plan holds rather bold social implications, which could prove fatal if
not handled delicately.
Magnificent is a terrific
little fable (albeit one that runs over two hours) that has bookkeeping skills
and a warm, generous heart. Kokudaya is an acutely humanistic character, whose
Kane-and-Abel sibling rivalry with the miserly Jinnai Asanoya develops in
surprising and deeply satisfying ways. As the black sheep brother, Satoshi
Tsumabuki is rigorously understated, but he still manages to steal the
spotlight during the third act. Eita’s Sugawaraya is also an engagingly earnest
late Edo everyman. The one downside is the relative paucity of strong women
characters, but Yuko Takeuchi nicely represents as Toki, the straight-talking
sake-house proprietor and co-conspirator.
This is a charming film that perfectly balances
the sweet and the tart. It also happens to be a film with samurai, but no
violence or suicide-inspiring tragic romances. Its heroes are the common man,
who might just find deliverance through interest income. That is a message
worth heeding. Very highly recommended, The
Magnificent Nine screens this Saturday (7/16) at the Japan Society, as part
of Japan Cuts 2016.
Labels: Japan Cuts '16, Japanese Cinema