Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Love and Honor

My review of Love and Honor appears in the current WE.

Love and Honor
By Andrea Warner
3 stars

It's taken Samurai movies a while to shake off the stench of Tom Cruise, but with Love or Honor, the elegant exercise in pride and circumstance from Yoji Yamada, it may be time for a second coming.

Love and Honor takes us inside a feudal lord's castle, and into the life of Mimura Shinnojo, a lowly samurai who serves as the Lord's food taster. As played by Takuya Kimura, Shinnojo is a complex combination of arrogant egotist and charming dreamer. He longs to be more than a glorified poison-control, and his frustration is palpable.

Before he can abandon the samurai life, though, he takes a fateful bite of sashimi, toxic when prepared out of season, and is rendered blind. He retreats inside himself as his wife, Kayo (the beautiful Rei Dan), and his faithful servant, Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano), struggle to come to grips with Shinnojo's disability. Kayo is pushed out of her comfort zone as dutiful wife and encouraged by the rest of the family to seek help from the devious Lord who offers to help them, but at a terrible cost.

Shinnojo's blindness invigorates what is otherwise a fairly routine story. His accident smartly pulls at the tenuous grip we all have on our own lives. Yamada's direction, and the careful cinematography, creates an almost tentative atmosphere, as if he's tiptoeing around his volatile protagonist.

The film moves quickly, jarring only when the symbolism sinks under its own weighty metaphors (two lovebirds in a cage, one dies, one flies away). Moments like these feel rudimentary when compared with the beautifully light touch that graces every other frame. Though practically Greek in its tragedy, Love and Honor's beautiful discipline is entirely the way of the Samurai.

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