I don’t get it. The Samurai I loved (TSIL) is based on a brilliant novel by Shuhei Fujisawa. It’s well-crafted and has a talented cast. So why did I find it to be so tedious and boring?
The first problem is that the picture doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has a love story, political upheaval, class struggles, and over the top bloody sword combat. These things just don’t play together nicely and the lack of focus definitely hurts the effectiveness of the beautiful cinematography (sadly, no cinematographer is listed for THIL on IMDB). The script is mostly to blame as it provides the framework, but tone is an issue as well. Either way, the blame lies firmly at the feet of writer/director Mitsuo Kurotsuchi.
I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the novel, but I can see how this convoluted tale could play well in print. A novel has the luxury of time. An author can slowly weave various plot lines and themes together into a cohesive whole over the course of hundreds of pages. But a film, even an epic one, has only a couple of hours. You’d think that would result in a hurried presentation if a writer tried to get it all in, but in this case the pacing is positively languid.
At the end of the day, I just never related to the characters. Part of that may be the Japanese tendency to keep emotions close to the chest but I think it has more to do with Kurotsuchi’s inability to draw us into the lives of the main characters. The world is well-defined, fleshed out with beautiful art direction. The characters are well played. The mise en scene presents ideas and thematic concepts clearly. But at the end of the day, the film falls flat.
If you’d like a better experience with a film adaptation of one of Fujisawa’s works, I’d recommend The Twilight Samurai. This one, not so much.