This Japanese film, directed by Yoji Yamada, won many awards in Japan. I can certainly understand why. It breaks the mold of films usually associated with Samurai warriors, and instead shows us the human side of a man who lived for his honor and who also wanted to just simply live.
The time period is 19th Century Japan. The strength of the Samurais is fading. And our hero, played by Seibei Iguchi, is a recent widower who is trying to support his two young daughters and aging mother. Yes, he's a Samurai, but of a minor caste. This means he works a day job, the equivalent of bookkeeper, along with a group of other men. He's a sad man, ignoring his personal hygiene, which embarrasses his boss. And he always goes straight home after work, never accepting the invitations of his co-workers to go out for a drink.
His relatives want him to marry again but he rejects the marriage broker who comes to visit. And then a lovely woman does come into his life. She's a childhood friend who has married badly. Because she was so mistreated, she has come home to live with her family. She's beautiful and kind and gentle, ad the sad Samurai's children love her. Later, he shows his valor with some swordplay with her abusive husband.
But as the story continues, and a romance blossoms, the man feels unworthy, even though it is clear that he and this woman would make a good match. And then, suddenly, the head of his Samurai clan calls upon him to commit a murder for the honor of the clan. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, he accepts, understanding that it is likely he will die.
I learned a lot about Samurai life and the details of living in a harsh environment every day. I felt I was right there, in a culture that is indeed different from mine. And, as I absorbed the atmosphere, I also felt the plight of a very troubled human being who had to make a hard choice about what he personally felt was right as compared to what his culture demanded of him.
This is a really fine film. The acting is extraordinary. The directing is flawless. There is romance, action and adventure. There's a serious glimpse in the world of the Samurai. And, most of all, there is a human story that tugged at my heartstrings. Highly recommended.