None of my wives or girlfriends have been big fans of samurai films. It is probably wrong to conclude from this that women just aren’t that into these kinds of films. After all, pretty much no one I know likes them. But I do think that women will tend not to like samurai films in general, because the films are very male — usually with almost exclusively male casts. But I think I have found a samurai film that would appeal more to women, and might be the first step in a long life of samurai film enjoyment.
Last month, I wrote, The Best Theoretical Action Film Ever. It was about the Bob’s Burgers episode “Hawk and Chick.” In it, we learn about a series of Japanese Samurai films that feature Hawk, as a wandering barber, and his young daughter, Chick. Everywhere they go, they run into monsters that disturb their simple lives. I believe that because of this, I started searching for Samurai films that might involve daughters. I knew about Samurai Rebellion, of course. But that wasn’t really the same thing. And of course, there is nothing similar to “Hawk and Chick.” But I was led to an amazingly good film, The Twilight Samurai.
Released in 2002, it was something of a big deal — being nominated for a the Best Foreign Language Feature Academy Award. But I had never even heard of it. And I should have, because it is a wonderful film — and in its way, a great substitute for “Hawk and Chick.” It isn’t silly and it doesn’t have any supernatural monsters. But it is about a widowed samurai who has two young daughters. And all he really wants to do is lead a simple life and enjoy watching his daughters grow. But events will not cooperate.
What most Americans do not know about samurai is that it is just a caste. Most samurai were bureaucrats, not warriors. And so samurai films often involve this fact. The protagonist of The Twilight Samurai is Iguchi — a very low level bureaucratic samurai who happens to have been a great fighter in his youth. That is all past him, however. But one day, he ends up saving his friend in a duel, and the word gets out that he’s a great fighter, so Iguchi’s clan leaders force him to go and assassinate an unreasonable samurai who refuses to commit seppuku as he was ordered. So the film features two stunning fight sequences.
But that’s not the core of the film. The main thing is that Iguchi really doesn’t have the money to take care of his girls. This gets him in some trouble. But eventually, his childhood sweetheart shows up — recently divorced from an abusive husband. All of these story threads — fighting, daughters, and sweetheart — interlink for a wonderful synergy. The result is a very special samurai film — the kind of film that works as a substitute for a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan. And it just might be the key to samurai film love.