The Samurai That Night

The Samurai That Night


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"I know you're there, eating custard," says housewife Nakamura Hisako (Sakai Maki) into her mobile phone while out shopping for the evening's dinner. "Pick up the phone."

Her husband Kenichi (Masato Sakai) is indeed there, listening to Hisako's voice in his office and devouring desserts, in spite of his diabetes. He doesn't pick up – and he will never see her alive again. For not long afterwards, on her way back home, Hisako is knocked off her bicycle in a hit-and-run accident.

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Five years later, Kenichi still listens to the recording of his wife's final message, albeit now with obsessive attention rather than casual indifference, and he still eats custard as he listens, although this is now more a ritualised act of guilt-ridden self-torment than an illicit indulgence. When he is not in the office, running on automatic like the machines in his ironworks factory, Kenichi is stalking Kijima (Yamada Takayuki), the man responsible for Hisako's death – and he has also been sending Kijima daily messages threatening, "I'll kill you, then myself," each with a countdown to the fifth anniversary of Hisako's death, just days away.

Where Kenichi is desperately introverted and devoid of discernible personality, the delinquent Kijima is the opposite: impulsive, priapic, appetitive, mercurial, scatological, easily bored and magnetically charismatic, attracting to his circle even those whom he has previously abused or tortured. Both are monstrous men-children, and as they circle each other in search of a satisfaction beyond their arrested grasp, a strange drama unfolds of remorse, revenge and possible redemption, with Kenichi's unhinged understatement offsetting Kijima's flamboyance to disarming effect.

Adapting his own stageplay, experimental dramaturge and first-time director Akahori Masaaki teases viewers with the titular promise of bladework, reinforced by an early glimpse of the kitchen knife that Kenichi furtively carries about with him. Sure enough the bruising climactic confrontation takes place in a field of mud and torrential rain that is pure period Kurosawa – and yet really this is a very modern tale of social alienation, existential ennui and crippling loneliness.

Even before his wife's death, Kenichi was already cutting himself off from the world, and much of the guilt that he carries about with him seems rooted in his failure to have taken her last call. Hisako's brother Aoki (Arai Hirofumi) realises that the best solution to Kenichi's withdrawal is to reconnect him with some human contact, even if the date that he arranges between Kenichi and maths teacher Kawamura Sechiko (Yamada Kinuwo), in a hilariously sleazy karaoke bar, does not go well. Kenichi may focus all his disgruntlement and aggression upon Kijima, but he is most at odds with himself – and when he finally meets his foe, all he really wants to do is talk.

Meanwhile, when Kijima is not threatening to set alight meek Mr Hoshi (Taguchi Tomorowo) on the merest suspicion that he might have disclosed Kijima's criminal past to others, Kijima is himself boasting of his misdeeds as he intimidates traffic guard Seki Yumiko (Tanimura Mitsuki) into becoming his girlfriend. So contradictory is Kijima, that even his best friend Kobayashi (Ayano Go), who was present at the accident, "can't figure him out", and longs for a time when he can enjoy "an ordinary life" – even if, as Aoki points out, "An ordinary life is something you work at."

This is, perhaps, the underlying message of The Samurai That Night – a film less concerned with flawless heroes and neat resolutions than with the immense personal battles (and small kindnesses of others) that help us discover something like normalcy in even the most traumatic of circumstances. A keen observer of everyday characters thrown off balance, Akahori may start off riding the familiar road of vengeance, but his narrative takes so many unexpected and bizarre detours that by the close, the revenge motif has become completely decentred, giving way to a quirky study of lost souls. The ending, a piece of oddball pie-in-the-face slapstick that is at the same time deeply moving, typifies the novice director's way with flouting convention and wrong-footing viewers as he all the while cuts straight to emotional truths.

Accordingly this debut, so bold, mannered and refreshing, ensures that when Akahori next comes calling, this viewer will certainly not hesitate to pick up the phone.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2012
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A man obsessed with avenging his late wife, mown down by a hit-and-run driver, threatens to kill the guilty driver... but will he find his inner samurai to act on the threat?

Director: Masaaki Akahori

Writer: Masaaki Akahori, Masaaki Akahori

Starring: Sakai Masato, Yamada Takayuki, Arai Hirofumi, Ando Sakura, Ayano Go, Sakai Maki, Taguhi Tomorowo, Tanimura Mitsuki, Takahashi Tsutomu, Yamada Kinuwo

Year: 2012

Runtime: 119 minutes

Country: Japan


London 2012

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