Love and Honor (Takuya Kimura, Rei Dan)

Date: 12 December 2008 ~15 January 2009
Venue: The Institute of Contemporary Art, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH
Tel: 020 7930 3647
Web site:
http://www.ica.org.uk/

Growing tired of his menial job tasting the Shogun’s meals for poison, Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) dreams of opening a dojo for children. His hopes are dashed however, after some incorrectly prepared shellfish robs him of his sight. Aghast at becoming an invalid of no use to society, Shinnojo falls into a deep dark depression, straining relations with his loving wife Kayo (Rei Dan). In a misguided attempt to save her husband, Kayo commits the ultimate betrayal – an act that will eventually lead to the blind Shinnojo battling for her honour against a master swordsman. Yamada’s two previous samurai movies (The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade) followed a very similar structure, and fans of those two may feel pangs of both nostalgia and repetition on viewing this latest effort. All three have seen down-on-their-luck, low level samurai forced into emotional realisations and deadly life-or-death battles. The two previous pictures, particularly Twilight, spent time expertly building tension towards the inevitable katana showdown. However, for this final effort Yamada has dialled back the focus on steel meeting steel, to concentrate instead on the inner turmoil of the central character.

Fresh faced Takuya Kimura (well known as a pop star in Japan) is the man tasked with conveying this turmoil, and his efforts are mesmerising. When we first meet him, he is a jovial husband; bored with his job, but supremely comfortable with his lot. His disastrous accident sees him transform: a stoic existential funk peppered with episodes of ghoulish rage, eventually galvanizing into a resolute force of furious anger. While the narrative may not be as gripping as previous instalments, Kimura’s towering performance will keep you engaged throughout the two-hour running time. Issues of inter-caste relationships and the intricacies of the strict 19th Century feudal system are not explored in as much depth in Love and Honour as they were in its prequels, but the backdrop is still fascinatingly alien, without being inaccessible. Yamada’s mastery of his craft is most often on show in the little touches that bring the setting to life. The clink of bowls and kettles, and a healthy dose of reverential bowing help build a tapestry that feels wholly unfamiliar to Western audiences, yet totally complete. Love and Honour might not reach the heights that the fabulous Twilight Samurai scaled, but its absorbing otherworldliness and an excellent central performance are certainly enough to make it a worthy finale to the trilogy.
Written by Joseph Ewens

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