Last night’s movie was: サムライマラソン (2019), same title in English. I was a bit confused at first, it was in the Japanese language section, but then when I went to turn off subtitles it said the audio was in English, but probably 90% of the film is in Japanese, the only English is a scene with some Americans.
But it’s a Japanese-British joint venture, a British director (and some crew) with pretty much all Japanese actors (perhaps Hollywood could take notes about this part. And also that you don’t need massive CGI-laden battle scenes for a samurai movie to be entertaining).
I didn’t recognise any of the actors but a quick wiki search says they’ve been in quite a few films.
Set in the 1850s a group of American vessels arrive in Japan to discuss trade and diplomatic relations (the real-life Perry Expedition), a local lord becomes worried that this is just a ruse for a full scale invasion (even more so after seeing what sort of weapons the Americans have). He looks at his samurai and sees the sorry state they’re all in after the 250+ years of peace that Japan has been enjoying. So he decides for them all to partake in a cross country marathon to toughen them up and see what they’re capable of.
I enjoyed this quite a lot! I had no idea what to expect really from a modern samurai film, I wasn’t expecting Kurosawa-level (though really, can anything reach that level?) but this was really quite enjoyable. The cinematography was good, all the costumes and set-pieces were nicely done, it was all done rather tastefully. The story was interesting and moved at a good pace - it got a bit bogged down at the beginning introducing the different characters and sub-plots (lots of sub-plots), but once it got down to the main portion it went smoothly.
The best part was the characters though, the acting was great all round, and everyone was varied (which I appreciated on Japanese listening-level too). I like that there wasn’t really a definite bad or good character, everyone had their own motivations from different viewpoints. There was a great friendship between a young kid and an old, retired samurai.
The score is great too, I was thinking that I recognised the style through the whole thing, then when the credits rolled and it showed the composer… it was only none other than Philip Glass, no wonder it was good
Japanese-wise, a lot of the samurai had the mumble-talk, or rough surly type, which was quite difficult to understand. But there was quite a bit that I could understand, enough to not be completely lost with the story at least. The bit were the Americans and the Japanese were conversing in their own languages messed with my head a bit though, there was one part were the American spoke and my brain was like “I don’t understand this accent of Japanese” then it dawned on me that he was speaking English.
It was also based on a book that’s about the Ansei Toashi / 安政遠足. The race has been revived and takes places in Annaka city annually (where the film also takes place).
If you think you’ll learn more from watching it again with subtitles then it could be a good idea! I’ve been tempted to re-watch some of the films with subtitles on, but I know I end up getting a bit lazy with subtitles and end up on relying on them the whole time.