Monday, 8 December 2008

Love and Honour (2006)

I'll be having something of a Japanese fling over the next couple of weeks, since the National Film Theatre is having a second 'Wild Japan' season (and we viewed some real weirdies during the previous one a few years back).To kick things off we went to the ICA for the premiere of the above movie (not a 'wild' one) from director Yoji Yamada.

This is the third of three beautifully-done Samurai-themed films from this director, the first two being "Twilight Samurai" (2002) and "The Hidden Blade" (2004). Although they are all period pieces, set towards the end of the samurai system, none of them -- despite an obligatory action sequence -- are action films as such, but rather character studies of a certain mentality and caste system at the time. Our hero here spends his days at the local castle, as one of five food tasters for the Lord; happily married to a beautiful wife, he dreams of leaving this honourable but boring position to found a dojo where he can teach children from all walks of life. However a bit of tainted shellfish ends his hopes as he recovers from its serious effects to find that he is now blind.

His faithful wife is egged on by his relatives to approach a local ambitious Steward who has offered to help to ensure that the samurai continues to receive some stipend from the castle. Believing that the Steward's intentions are genuine and it does seem indeed that he has influence, she quickly finds out that his help comes at a price -- her virtue. Prepared to do anything for her husband, she gives herself, thinking it will be only once, but the lecherous fellow has longterm plans. When word gets back to her husband from his blabby aunt that the wife has been seen with a man, he has his servant follow her, learns the truth from her when she confesses to him, promptly annouces that he is now divorced from her, and drives her from the house in the pouring rain.

In due course when he learns that his stipend had nothing to do with the Steward, but came direct from the Lord who realised that our hero had saved his life, he gets even angrier, likening his wife's treatment to rape and determines to extract retribution. He may be blind, but Japan has a long historic tradition of blind swordsman (remember all the Zatoichi films), so he practices with his former master until he is ready to challenge the cad. It's probably best to stop here without too many spoilers, but use your imagination to guess how this story reaches its satisfactory, moving, and happy end.
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