Monday, December 23, 2013

American Mishima featured on Discover Nikkei

We are proud to announce that we have been published in the DISCOVER NIKKEI JOURNAL! 
A portion from our upcoming novel "The Soldier and the Samurai" 
 Is now available for you to read at the attached link! 
Please Enjoy!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ken Watanabe Remakes Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven

In continuing with the unique on-going cross cultural exchange of Samurai Jidaigeki and American Western Films that dates back to the golden age of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Award Winning Writer / Director Sang-il Lee (Hula Garu) brings us the latest installment in Yurusarezaru Mono (許されざる者)Unforgiven.

Inspired by the original 1992 Academy Award winning Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven, Director Sang-il Lee brilliantly takes us from the American Old West and resets the storyline in Hokkaido Japan at the end of the fall of the Shogunate. Starring Japanese acting great Ken Watanabe as “Jubei the Killer,” the story opens in 1869 (Meiji 2) with the last remnants of the Shoguns forces desperately fleeing north to the freezing wilds of Ezo (Hokkaido) to escape the pursuing government forces comprised of Satsuma troops bent on their destruction. These were desperate times for the Samurai and one that would not last after the decisive battle at Goryoukaku.

Fast forward eleven years later we find Jubei living on a barren windswept farm along the north eastern shore of Hokkaido. Jubei now retired raises two children he had with an Ainu woman he married who since died leaving him a widower. The cold bleak land produces little food leaving Jubei to ponder how he will care for his children in such harsh conditions until a lone horsemen rides up to his farm and recognizes “Jubei the Killer,” who is surprised to find he is still alive. The horseman is an aging old Samurai and former comrade named Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) from “The Elite Special Corps of Samurai” that once patrolled Kyoto – A veiled reference to the famous doomed Samurai the Shinsengumi. 

Kingo is on a quest to collect a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes who are seeking to avenge one of their own named Natsume (Shiori Katsuna) who had been beaten and disfigured by two former Samurai of the Sendai Clan who had resettled in Hokkaido. They had carved the woman’s face in a drunken rage after believing that the girl had laughed at Sanosuke Hotta’s (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) inadequacies. 

Both Sanosuke and his brother Unosuke Hotta (Takahiro Miura) are initially tied up by the brothel owner Kihachi (Yoshimasa Kondo) but to the outrage of the women, the Police Chief Ichizo Oishi (Koichi Sato) lets them go on the condition they compensate the Kihachi with six horses, an inadequate settlement to Natsume’s suffering. But despite the protests of the senior most of prostitutes named Okaji (Eiko Koike), Chief Oishi brutally warns that there will be no further acts of revenge and that the case is closed.

Unsatisfied with Chief Oishi’s resolution, the fallen women agree to pull their earnings to offer a bounty of 1000 Yen to any man who kills the two perpetrators. This draws the attention of many former Samurai seeking to earn a living in the barren north. A retired Samurai of the Choshu Clan rides into town in a horse drawn cart ignoring the posted sign warning “No Guns or Swords Allowed.” The Samurai named Masaharu Katoji (Jun Kunimura) dressed in full Samurai attire wearing the two swords steps into the brothel for a meal and a drink with a lanky western attired writer named Yasaburo Himeji (Kenichi Takito) who is there to write Masaharu’s biography. 

Within minutes he is confronted by a former Samurai from Satsuma who challenges him to a sword duel, a duel in which Masaharu’s superior skill humiliates the Satsuma Samurai. But no sooner than Masaharu sheaths his sword he is surrounded by Oishi’s men who have their rifles trained on him. Chief Oishi scolds him for ignoring the sign forbidding weapons in his town and forces him to surrender his swords. Once in custody, Oishi sadistically beats the former Samurai to near death before sending him home with his sword deliberately bent and broken. Oishi warns that “All Samurai Scum are not welcome in his town.”

Enter Jubei the Killer. Hours after Kingo left his farm to pursue the whores bounty, Jubei contemplates Kingo’s offer to split the reward after his son pulled up two undersized potatoes that were not fit to eat. His family’s plight weighs heavy on him as does his pledge to his late wife to never kill or drink again. As he looks into the sad eyes of his son and daughter, he concludes that he must embark on this bounty hunt in order to save his family. For this he will leave his children alone for two weeks advising them to kill a chicken if they get hungry and to go to the Ainu if there is any trouble. And in the cinematic repose of the original 1992 film, the repentant killer rides away.

The very next day Jubei catches up with Kingo. But they would not ride alone. Enter the crazy drunken braggart Ainu Goro Sawada (Yuya Yagira) who boasts he has killed six men. Goro follows the two former Samurai aware that Jubei is reputed to have killed soldiers from Satsuma during the Boshin War and further killed women and children who were Christians at Yabari, a claim which Jubei will not acknowledge and is a matter of great contention. But when the trio encounters a group of local police brutalizing an Ainu village for observing funeral customs, Goro counts on Jubei’s brutality to help the defenseless Ainu which both Jubei and Kingo refuse. Kingo in turn urges Jubei to tell Goro the truth that it was the Government soldiers not Jubei that killed the Christians of Yabari that earned him his brutal reputation as a killer. This disappoints Goro who is still determined to collect a share of the bounty. 

Moving on, the trio of bounty hunters arrives at the town on a dark rainy night. Jubei has taken ill and sits for a warm drink while Kino and Goro play with the women upstairs. Enter Chief Oishi who recognizes Jubei the Killer and challenges him to a fight. Jubei is clearly in no condition to fight. As a result, Chief Oishi brutally assaults Jubei beating him mercilessly and carving his face with a broken bottle while saying “A villain should wear a villains’ mark.”

Chief Oishi beats and kicks Jubei within an inch of his life but chooses to let the humiliated former Samurai crawl out into the rain soaked mud to be rescued by Kingo and Goro with the help of the prostitutes who are mortified by Oishi’s brutality. Days later, the women helped Kingo and Goro bring Jubei back from the brink of death. Kingo stitches Jubei’s face and brings him to his feet. Oishi is not forgotten by Jubei but first they must hunt down the Hotta men. They first find Unosuke Hotta on a hunting party which they ambush. Kingo takes the first shot wounding Unosuke but it is Jubei who will finish him off. After seeing Jubei perform the coup de gras, Kingo decides he can no longer kill and leaves Jubei and Goro to collect the bounty. But to do that, the two men will have to ride into to town where the other Hotta is being held by Oishi. Sanosuke Hotta, the unrepentant perpetrator of the initial crime is let outside of the police station to use the outhouse. It is there in a brazen daylight assault that Goro attacks Hotta. Goro and Jubei escape in a hail of gunfire in which Oishi fails to shoot Jubei off his horse and vows to exact revenge. 

Just like in American Westerns, the villainous police Chief Oishi deputizes all former Samurai he can muster to hunt down Jubei but in his quest he finds Kingo who has left the bounty for his own. Kingo succumbs to Oishi’s brutality and is strung up to die in the freezing snow with a sign dangling from his neck warning any bounty hunters that this will happen to them. But before the news gets to Jubei, Goro reveals what Jubei has known all along that Goro has never really killed anyone before and as a result sworn off killing. Once Natsume arrives with the reward money, she tells Jubei of Kingo’s fate. Now it will be up to Jubei the Killer to exact a revenge sequence that will shake the soul to its deepest core. 

In a film reminiscent to Ken Watanabe’s 2005 film Kita No Zeronen - Year One in the North, Unforgiven revisits both the forbidding natural wonders of Hokkaido and the plight of the indigenous Ainu people during the early days of the Meiji Era. The juxtaposition of Samurai to Western drama is most adequately executed in perfect form aligning with the historical events of those turbulent times. Like the original, this gritty brutal drama evokes both the realism of sword combat and the consequences of violence. As such, it has won praise from Clint Eastwood himself! Ken Watanabe has once again proven why he is the master thespian of our time as Jubei the Killer and the best of Japan’s film industry in this cinematic masterpiece Unforgiven. While not for the faint hearted, Sang-il Lee’s Unforgiven has our vote as one of the greatest film remakes of all time. 
Please enjoy!