The Samurai That Night
Masaaki Akahori adapts his own stage play into a powerful meditation on isolation and grief…
Kenichi Nakamura (Masato Sakai, Key Of Life, When the Last Sword Is Drawn, Sukiyaki Western Django, Lush Life) is the manager of a small ironworks whose life has shutdown since his wife was killed in a hit and run accident some five years before. He surrounds himself with his wife’s clothes, replaying the last message left for him time and time again, as it calls him out for raiding the custard pots. ‘Stay away from the custard’. Obsessively he slurps down several on each listen, like a minor spousal rebellion turned into a ritual homage.
The perpetrator of crime, local thug Hiroshi Kijima (Takayuki Yamada, Crows Zero, Gantz, 13 Assassins, 252: Signal of Life), having been released for serving his time is now receiving daily letters saying that he and the anonymous writer will die on the anniversary of the accident. Except it’s obvious who’s leaving those notes. Kenichi’s older brother Hisako (Hirofumi Arai, Helter Skelter, Confessions, Blood and Bones, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) has been trying unsuccessfully to set him up on blind dates.
With the anniversary her death fast approaching, everyone around him is desperately trying to stop Kenichi from doing something disastrous…
Writer/director Masaaki Akahori adapts his own stage play, which he wrote, directed and starred in. And from the opening scene of Kenichi gulping down custard as a mischievous husband, there’s a sweaty claustrophobia to his camera work. His debut feature film, he expands on the play, taking comic touches but truly making it a cinematic and, at times, an unpleasantly atmospheric experience. (But in a good way…)
The sight of our lead ‘Samurai’ running around with a kitchen knife in a shopping bag may be reminiscent of Himizu, but Akahori’s dialogue and direction could hardly be further away from the hysterics of Sion Sono on that film. Instead Akahori pushes towards subtle, unflashy but solid performances from a great ensemble cast that includes Denden (Cold Fish, Himizu, Like Someone in Love), Tsutomu Takahashi (Crows Zero, Confessions, The Woodsman and the Rain) and Gou Ayano (Helter Skelter, Gantz, Tajomaru, Crows Zero 2).
(Though it’s notable that in so many post-Tsunami Japanese films, the main dramatic expedient is so often a natural disaster like a typhoon; the shadow of Fukushima is still uppermost in culture.)
Both our lead and his adversary are in every sense of the word, pathetic. Not only have neither of them been able to rebuild their lives since. Kenichi and his dessert fixation, with no chance of a mundane, ordinary life; Hiroshi permanently crashing at friends, playing computer games, so preoccupied with guilt. You also don’t get the impression they had much of a life to begin with. For the introverted Kenichi, his wife was the channel to the outside world.
Like distorted reflections of each other, neither is able to truly enjoy life, surrounded by friends but unable to truly express their feelings. This isolation spreads through the characters like Nobuo Hoshi (played by Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Gantz, A Snake of June), who follows Hiroshi like a lost dog after he beat him up. When asked why, he has little to say except that he was bored, and there was nothing on TV. A traffic warden is happy to invite Hiroshi into her home; so dull is her work ensuring no one uses a closed road.
Small talk, or lack thereof, plays an important part in Akahori’s work. In this small town or suburban setting, everyone is known to each other but few really communicate. Repeated dialogue is a recurring motif, as characters repeat the same lines, rather than expanding on them to make their points clear. Emotions are repressed, desperately needing to be released.
And just like the classic Samurai tales, these two mirror images of each other must face each other, in a lengthy, wonderfully tense and very rainy conclusion. Just don’t expect any major breakthroughs or on-screen revelations for Kenichi in Samurai’s final reel. Life doesn’t work like that, but sometimes it does work out in the end…
Impressively claustrophobic and poignant, saying much by saying little, The Samurai That Night is possibly a film that’s impossible to sit on the fence with, you’ll either love it or hate it. And I liked it very much…
Just stay away from the custard!