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Yamada screens final samurai flick at Tokyo festival

Love and Honor
‘Love and Honor’
TOKYO (TR) – Director Yoji Yamada saw the culmination of his samurai trilogy with a special screening of “Bushi no Ichibun” (Love and Honor) on the eve of the 19th annual Tokyo International Film Festival.

“Bushi” is the first Japanese film to open the festival, which will feature Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima film, “Flags of Our Fathers,” on Saturday evening and close next week with director Kon Ichikawa’s mystery, “Murder of the Inugami Clan.”

Taken from a short story by author Shuhei Fujisawa, the Shochiku picture, which is the final installment in a series that has included the Oscar-nominated “The Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade,” is the story of a blind samurai who must uphold the virtues of the warrior code and simultaneously win the love of his wife.

“Of course I enjoyed ‘The Twilight Samurai,'” said TIFF chairman Tsuguhiko Kadokawa at the gala event amid a setting decorated in tree limbs and fall colors at Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills Arena. “But I was particularly moved by this film. That’s why I wanted it for the opener.”

The Japanese title of the film, which directly refers to the spirit of the warrior, differs considerably from the English. But Yamada is confident that the message will be conveyed.

“Frankly, I am not sure how English-speaking people will receive the title,” said the 75-year-old director in his trademark heavy-rimmed glasses and distinctly gray hair. “But I hope the essence of the Japanese title can be understood.”

Playing the role of warrior Shinnojo is heartthrob Takuya Kimura, whose primary work has been in music and television with his entertainment five-some SMAP.

Other notables in this production include former Takarazuka theater group member Rei Dan, in her film debut as Shinnojo’s wife, and Kaori Momoi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”), who previously worked with Yamada in 1977’s “The Yellow Handkerchief.”

“I thought he was actually blind,” gushed Dan of the acting talent of Kimura, whose every motion at the event was greeted by the shrieks of the hundreds of women who had gathered on the shopping complex’s floors above the arena. “He was so natural.”

Yamada, who is best known for profiling the lost loves of a plump-cheeked Tokyo peddler in the 48-episode “Tora-san” film series, has developed a calm and relaxed filming style over the years, said Momoi.

“The relationship between Kimura and Yamada,” she said, “was so nice that I was able to relax.”

With his samurai run complete, Yamada will begin work early next year on his fourth Shochiku film, “Kabei,” based on a novel by Teruyo Nogami. Starring Sayuri Yoshinaga, who appeared in two “Tora-san” installments, the picture will tell the tale of a mother struggling through life in World War II-era Tokyo.

“Bushi no Ichibun” will see its nationwide release on December 1st.

Note: This article originally appeared in October 2006 on the Sake-Drenched Postcards Web page.