The Samurai That Night is an excellent film. I must say however, for the benefit of those expecting swords and kimonos, that it is not a film about an actual samurai, so do not expect to be entertained with fast motion takes, rapid editing or jaw dropping CGI. The film, which has already won a Golden Zenith at the Montreal World Film Festival, does deal with a common belief present in samurai films, the idea that the murder of innocent women or children should be avenged and our main protagonist, awkward Kenichi Nakamura- portrayed by Masato Sakai, must deal with this grave dilemma.
We join Kenichi, or Ken as is preferred by his wife, two days before the five-year anniversary of her death. She (Maki Sakai) was killed in a hit and run by Kijima (Takayuki Yamada) who has recently been freed from prison after being convicted for her death. Both men are still coming to terms with the event. Ken is mild-mannered, whilst keeping up with the running of his small ironworks business, he remains reclusive, not speaking much until the film’s climatic scenes at the end. By contrast Kijima is aggro and in initial conflict with all he interacts with.
I enjoyed the film’s mundane realism which firmly places the plot into a modern urban context and allows the audience to relate to the Japanese characters. The film also depicts the formalities and reserved nuances of Japanese culture, most of the characters, apart from roguish Kijima, are apologetic and overly polite by British standards.
I was only disappointed by a couple of lines worth of dialogue between Ken and Kijima, where Ken suggests that they talk about television, I felt this to be cheesy and belittling of the journey the characters had made toward their final confrontation. Other than this I found The Samurai That Night to be a very good choice and definitely worth watching particularly on a rainy autumn afternoon. I am very pleased at its selection for the BFI’s London Film Festival.
Quite possibly the best film I’ve seen this year so far and strangely enough I’m not going to recommend it because of its length. I don’t know how many people can concentrate and enjoy a film of this length and more than a few people left the cinema within the first 20 minutes. Not a great start for the film or this review to mention this but I think if you’re the type of person who’s willing to read on and likely to brave three hours of cinema time then you’ll be well rewarded with what is one of the simplest yet divinely well made films I’ve seen in years. The director Nuri Bilge Ceylan writes and directs so well that the only other description I want to use is beautifully. I have never come across a film that used sound so well and to such an extent that entire scenes can be remembered by the noise that emanated from the screen. I am quite specific in my use of the word noise because I think the very texture of the film would be lost without this idea. There was a crispness of background noises that attuned the watcher to the very atmosphere of the film and in a way that wasn’t indulgent so that the each sound was the scene brought to life. All of this and the visual aspects in terms of lighting and colour, and to an extent the pace of the film combined in such a way that they created the essence of real smell, movement and memory of lives and stories that made the entire experience seem real.
The main story is told in 15 minute intervals where we are fed more information about the characters but not about the murder: the reason why the characters are brought together in the Anatolian countryside to find the body of the victim. Within the 15 minute intervals we get an illuminating conversation that reveals a little more about each of the characters, sometimes in funny Tarantino style dialogue and other times a more emphatic and deeper dialogue about the characters’ lives. The brilliance of this film is the real life aspect of having so many unanswered questions and our consistent search for the answers.
We’re never told the why of the murder, how the presumed murderer is captured and his interrogation and confession. We are left in an assumed state and still as the film draws to an end many of the answers to our questions remain light and almost fleeting as we don’t quite grasp the full meaning of what we see unfold. Despite this we’re not disappointed but rather like the character in the film we are instead left reflective. The men are full of personal questions and soul-searching as they move from one site to another in search of the buried victim and we bear witness to their thoughts as they’re voiced. We see the prosecutor coming to terms with the death or his wife and the doctor’s stoic yet pining for a lost love. We also witness what would seem to be the trivial parts of the police chief’s arguments with his wife and what is in fact a deeper problem of circumstance that puts him and, in their own ways all these men, in situations beyond their control and understanding. Perhaps this is what the story is showing us: how we cope and deal with loss as the circumstances of life either take from us or take us from one moment to another.