Autumn Rain of the Cicadas
“The Samurai I Loved” (Original title “Semishigure” or “Autumn Rain of the Cicadas”) is the fourth film to be released in the West based on the novels of Fujisawa Shuhei. The other three films make up the “Samurai Trilogy” by Yamata Yoji (The Twilight Samurai, based on a short story collected in The Bamboo Sword: And Other Samurai Tales, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor) and are instant classics of the genre.
“The Samurai I Loved” is not directed by Yamata, but instead by Kurotsuchi Mitsuo, who had personally acquired the rights to the story from author Fujisawa decades before. Kurotsuchi had only previously directed two films (Jutai 1991, Orugoru 1989) and spent the in-between time working on the screenplay for the Fujisawa adaptation.
Fujisawa’s work is all about capturing the humanity behind the mythos of the samurai, and “The Samurai I Loved” is no exception. A young boy, Bunshiro Maki (famed kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro, Ashura) lives an unexceptional village life until his samurai father (legendary actor Ogata Ken, The Ballad of Narayama) is disgraced for supporting a rival lord’s grasp for succession and is sentenced to perform seppuku. Bunshiro and his mother share the shame of the father’s dishonor, to the extent that Bunshiro’s childhood sweetheart, Fuku (Kimura Yoshino, Wakeful Nights), is no longer permitted to come calling. Severing the ties completely, Fuku is sent to Edo as a maid to the fief lord. Years into the future, Bunshiro slowly sees his place in society restored, but is shocked by the return of Fuku, no longer the pretty village girl but now the stunning Lady O-Fuku, concubine to the fief lord and carrying his child. Succession plots are gathering supporters again, and Bunshiro is asked to abandon his hard-won respectability to protect his long-lost love and her child from another man.
I dearly love Fujisawa’s style of writing, which has been captured beautifully in “The Samurai I Loved.” There are scenes that are absolutely heart-wrenching, and the subtlety of the love between Bunshiro and Fuku is touching and elegant. An ocean of depth lies behind those cool faces, and the ability to project so much while saying so little is what I love about Japanese film. Director Kurotsuchi has also made the most of the beauty of the changing Japanese seasons. The same location is seen in winter, autumn and spring, and the yearly song of the cicadas always brings us back to summer.
Which is not to say this is a perfect film. “The Samurai I Loved” is sort of a first-cousin to Yamata’s “Samurai Trilogy,” and isn’t really on the same level. Yamata’s films are based on his long experience as a filmmaker, and are modern works of film art. By contrast, Kurotsuchi is simply not the director that Yamata is, and the story is not evenly paced. Even for a Japanese film, there are times when “The Samurai I Loved” is agonizingly slow and some scenes, like the big battle showdown, that step too closely to parody.
But what works far outweighs what doesn’t, and the ending of “The Samurai I Loved” is so powerful that it overwhelms any flaws that may have distracted from the movie earlier. Ichikawa and Kimura deserve special notice. I can’t recall seeing a dialog-free scene before that spoke so loudly.
The DVD for “The Samurai I Loved” is very nice, and includes and interview with director Kurotsuchi Mitsuo. Animeigo has written the book on effective subtitling for modern DVDs, including options for subtitles in either yellow or white, and “dialog only” or “enhanced” versions that offer cultural hints and translations that go deeper into the meaning rather than just translating the dialog.
(On one aside, I don’t know who gave this film the name “The Samurai I Loved,” but it is a particularly cheesy title and a bad choice. A literal translation of “Semishigure” might have been strange, but not every period Japanese film needs the word “samurai” stuck in the title. They should have gone with something like “Cicada’s Song” or even just left it as “Semishigure.” Whatever you do, don’t let the silly title keep you away from this beautiful film.)