Japan, late 19th century. A fleeing ronin (Watanabe) is lured by a mercenary gig to avenge the mutilation of a prostitute. However, taking on the mantle of bounty hunter plunges him back into his violent past.
The Western goes east in this splendid Japanese remake of the Clint Eastwood classic. It transposes the story to 1880 Hokkaido (Japan’s north island), all mountains and snowfields. Ken Watanabe is a runaway ex-samurai, tempted into a mercenary mission to kill the men who mutilated a prostitute. The original film is followed extremely closely, yet there are ingenious tweaks: for example, Japan’s aboriginal people, the Ainu, stand in for Native Americans. With majestic landscapes, humour and full-on grit, the new film can’t quite equal its source, but it’s a fascinating rework that fully satisfies on its own terms.
The samurai/Western osmosis is given a terrific new surge by this beautiful-looking, smartly modified translation of the Eastwood classic.