Less 'Samurai' to 'Love' -- Film Review

Those accustomed to the deliberate yet powerful film adaptations of Shûhei Fujisawa's novels, namely Twilight Samurai and Love and Honor, will find The Samurai I Loved (aka Semishigure, or In Chorus of Cicadas) excruciatingly familiar. Sadly, in this case, that's not a good thing; the absence of Yôji Yamada is certainly felt, as Mitsuo Kurotsuchi adamantly tries to replicate the tone from his successful samurai dramas with little avail. Though aptly performed and attractively photographed in a similar fashion, it instead makes us appreciate the delicate directorial measures taken by Yamada to keep Fujisawa's novels compelling within their pacing, instead of this drab, drawn-out rhythm.

It revolves around the two lives of Bunshiro, half of the film concentrating on his youth and the other as an adult. He studied the ways of the samurai with his friends as a young student, showing promise as a talented warrior while his friends lagged behind. But when his father is sentenced to commit seppuko (ritualized suicide for an embarrassing act) by the magistrate for wrongful acts and their food stipend removed, his life tumbles down in a state of embarrassment for his family. Forced to eke out a living with his mother, he grows into a talented samurai who, eventually, would find himself in a similar position as his father.

This film is entitled The Samurai I Loved for a reason, of course, which brings up his relationship with childhood friend Fuku. She's forcefully shipped off to serve in a far-off household, only to return in Bunshiro's adulthood as an eleventh hour plot device. At least, that's the way that the sloppily-handled narrative emphasizes their relationship, given very little gravity by all the unmemorable actors at play. Under tighter direction, their love could've been more emphatic and wistful. Instead, she's little more than a secondary element for most of the picture, largely due to the misbalanced handling of Bunshiro's complex life. Somegaro Ichikawa and Yoshino Kimura aren't completely to blame, since they perform their adult roles fine enough to mirror their less-than-stellar child counterparts, but the transition between youth to adulthood never really carries over any sense of evocative vigor.

As with other adaptations of Fujisawa's novels, samurai swordplay acts more as a character growth element that an action beat. Usually, with his bell-shaped narrative flow, it only hits two-or-three action pieces per story. The Samurai I Loved floats along with the same ebbs and flows, but they're handled in a fashion that's simply not interesting. Though the conclusion elicits shades of Kihachi Okamoto's Sword of Doom in its semi-claustrophobic bustle, the editing and acting present in the scene feels both forced and bland. Granted, the samurai action isn't the draw to the story; however, there's an immediacy evoked with Yôji Yamada's sparse sequences -- often the final duel at the close of each film -- that rustles up excitement around both the internal and external battle to give it punch. That's simply not present in Mitsuo Kurotsuchi's picture.

Fujisawa's core story manages to be the only thing keeping The Samurai I Loved cinematically afloat, suffering from an exuberant two-hour-plus runtime, weakly drawn characters, and forgettable drama encompassing period theatrics. The story structure actually supports the mediocre surroundings much better than you'd expect, containing a healthy level of conspiracy and familiar turmoil. Through all the Terrence Malick-like visual imagery with snakes slithering and the usage of cicadas, it tries to paint a graceful story. Instead, Mitsuo Kurotsuchi's film suffers from the exact adjective criticisms that often get misdirected towards Yôji Yamada's trio of samurai dramas -- sluggish, somewhat bland, and only mildly satisfying.


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