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When The Last Sword Is Drawn Review

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In the final days of the Meiji period, a samurai (Nakai) who can no longer feed his family leaves his clan and joins the renowned Shinsengumi, who fight for the Shogunate against the emperor.

★★★★

The Meiji period is proving a bountiful source for this year’s Bushido movies, with both The Last Samurai and Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai exploring the plight of the Japanese warrior as the Western world encroached upon his ancient way of life. Adapted from a bestselling novel, Yojiro Takita’s award-winning movie charts the adventures of master swordsman Kanichiro Yoshimura, through an intertwining narrative recounted by two men years after the warrior’s death.

The men’s recollections leap back and forth, unravelling the threads of Yoshimura’s life. One remembers a gentle, noble hero, while the other, Saito (Sato), recalls a money-grabber whose ideals didn’t meld with the austerity of his code. Each man’s insight develops this dichotomy in Yoshimura’s character, Saito realising that his comrade’s lust for loot was prompted by a far nobler ideal.

Takita strikes a moving, melancholic tone, depicting a man living out of his time, who, ironically, could have bridged the gap between the Western world and his own realm. For while he’s willing to honour his code and his liege lord, Yoshimura places his family ahead of his profession, willing to sacrifice everything for the people and land he loves.

With its restrained palette, affecting score and wistful tone, Takita’s character-driven drama deserves the same acclaim it received in Japan.