Posted in Fantasia 2011, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews

Fantasia 2011: Review of The Last Ronin

The Last Ronin (2010)
Director: Shigemichi Sugita, Screenplay: Yozo Tanaka, from Shoichiro Ikemiya
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Koichi Sato, Nanami Sakuraba, Narumi Yasuda

This is more of a samurai soap opera than a samurai slice n dice.  It is based on Shoichiro Ikemiya’s 1994 novel “Saigo no Chushingura (reference) which is a fictional story based on a real historical event (Revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin) where 47 ronin (masterless samurais) avenged the death of their lord and then committed ritual suicide (seppuku).  This historical event is the most popular samurai tale in Japan and has been adapted countless times for TV as it encompasses a lot of the philosophical idealology of Bushido (the way of the warrior/samurai).

This Last Ronin is about a survivor of the 47 and another one who abandoned them.  Kichiemon (Koichi Sato) had been ordered to live so that he could visit the families of the deceased ronin to tell them the real story of what happened and to provide them money.  By chance during his travels, Kichiemon catches a glimpse of an old friend named Magoezamon (Koiji Yakusho) who was one of the samurai who ran away the night before the 47 ronins avenged their lord’s death.  Kichiemon doesn’t know why Magoezamon disappeared all those years ago and is determined to find out.

There’s really some lovely scenery in this film which as far as I know (which is very little) nicely evokes that ancient time period.  There are also some nice puppet show sequences that show up intermittently throughout the story.  This is not an action movie as there are only a couple of fight scenes.  The majority of the movie is actually focused on Magoezamon (who has changed his name to Magoza) and a young girl, 16 years of age named Kane (Nanami Sakuraba) whom he takes care of in a secluded part of the woods.  In fact, the interaction between Magoza and Kane is quite amusing as it is established that Kane has strong affections for Magoza who is quite oblivious much to her chagrin.  This is understandable since he’s more than old enough to be her father and pretty much is her surrogate father.  The Fantasia audience would laugh with certain audience members slapping their foreheads at Magoza’s total lack of awareness.  Their relationship is a definite highlight and it doesn’t hurt at all that actress Nanami Sakuraba is incredibly beautiful.

The story does give us insight into the concept of Bushido which emphasizes the importance of loyalty, duty and sacrificing one’s own personal interests for a larger goal.  However, I think advance knowledge of these concepts helps in understanding the actions of Magoezamon and the actions of the 47 ronin at the beginning of the movie.  I myself not being familiar with Bushido or the Revenge of the 47 Ronin did find the beginning involving the 47 ronin a bit lacking in detail (or maybe my memory is hazy) but again this was likely a conscious decision on the director’s part since most Japanese would be aware of this event anyway and would not require explicit explanation.

What I’ve just mentioned are more nitpicks than anything else.  As far as real flaws are concerned I found that it would’ve been nice to have at least some detail on the past friendship between Magoezamon and Kichiemon because at least on screen it didn’t really seem like they had been friends at all but just samurai who were part of the same clan.  Kichiemon’s character seems somewhat underdeveloped as he ends up being more of a plot device used to deduce Magoezamon’s secret.    Overall, I enjoyed this movie very much and would recommend it for those seeking a samurai drama that focuses on characters.

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Author:

Longtime fan of East Asian films. Former "movie reporter" on the music radio show / podcast "Beats From The East" broadcasted on Concordia University's CJLO 1690AM radio station in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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