Film Analysis of Twilight Samurai

Topics: Samurai, Edo period, Seppuku Pages: 6 (2327 words) Published: March 1, 2011
Directed by the experienced and renowned Yoji Yamada, Twilight Samurai is a film set in the 19th century, towards the end of the Tokugawa or Edo era. It was a time when the samurai system was beginning to wane as Japan started to advocate itself towards modernization. The Meiji reforms had started to begin, and the samurai class was gradually being disregarded as of a higher social status. The lifestyle and demand for the samurai was thus in a process of change, as the samurai began to take on other trades such as merchants. The film depicts the story of Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a low-ranking, 50-koku samurai who struggles to make ends meet as he supports his family consisting of an elderly and senile mother, as well as 2 young daughters. His wife had just died of consumption due to poverty, leaving him with huge debts he had incurred while treating his wife’s disease. He generates extra income by weaving insect cages, almost like a peasant, and his mundane life changes when Tomoe, his childhood sweetheart, returns back to the clan after an abusive marriage. Seibei is portrayed as an ill-fated samurai who seems to continuously have new hurdles appearing in his life. Some of the elements projected amidst it all has shown us certain aspects important to the samurai tradition, and reflect certain romanticized and stereotyped, or not, images of themselves to the audience. In the film, it is established right from the start that the samurai is being illustrated as a figure of authority or higher social class in the Japanese society. Yamada has expressed this in scenes such as when the group of samurais was walking out after their lesson, everyone bowed down to them in respect, or at least in recognition. In addition, when the clan retainer comes to inspect stock at the area where Seibei worked, he chastised the latter for his disarrayed dressing, reasoning that “clan retainers must serve as examples to common folk.” Another scene where Tomoe brought Seibei’s two daughters out for a festival further justified that they were considered a segregated elite. Tomoe brought up the point that samurais were not allowed to attend such festivals with the peasants and townsfolk, probably because it did not make their distinction from the common folk clear. Even Seibei, whom we can safely say is a samurai of lower profile, had the luxury of a boy servant following him and running errands for him despite his dire situation. A consistent injection of such scenes by Yamada constantly convinces the audience of the samurai’s raised social status, and this is relatively parallel to our typical stereotyped image of samurais. The raised social status of samurais thus also contributed to the need for them to look neat, presentable and kempt. Throughout the movie, we see Yamada’s consistent portrayal of samurais with almost homogenously neat, combed hair tied in top-knots, accompanied with a clean shaven middle. This portrayal identifies with the fact that the samurai’s hair was an important part of his appearance, as most texts and house-codes of samurais make reference to the importance of it. The dressing of the samurai is also an indication of their status and politeness. This also matches the stereotype of samurais that we have, as the fact that they were dignified personnel would have given us some sort of expectation from their physical presentation. Despite that, this stereotype is being challenged in the example of Seibei, as well as the samurai Yogo Zenemon whom he dueled with in the film. Seibei’s appearance is being chided at a few times in the film for his lack of hygiene and desire to keep kempt, sometimes even attributing his unkemptness to a lack of manners. There is a scene where there was a zoom-in on Seibei’s dirty, black-stained fingernails probably from the hours of labour, and some where it shows Seibei scratching his head in itch. When Seibei stands next to one of his better, kinder childhood friend Iinuma Michinojo...
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