Blu-ray Review: The Twilight Samurai - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Winner of 12 Japanese Academy Awards, The Twilight Samurai (2002) tells the story of low-level Samurai Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) barely getting by in 1860s Japan. After his wife passes away, he is left to care for his two young daughters and his dementia-stricken mother. His fellow samurai derisively call him “Twilight” because he must rush home each evening to tend to his family. Director Yôji Yamada takes his time with Seibei’s story, slowly and carefully letting us into the beleaguered samurai’s inner life. Although there are a few key moments of combat, Twilight isn’t an action film. It is, however, a delicately observed character study. Specialty label Twilight Time has recently issued the film on Blu-ray as part of their Limited Edition Series (3,000 copies in total).

Yamada presents Seibei as a man of quiet dignity. He’s embarrassed when called out for his poor hygiene and his tattered, torn clothing. He isn’t proud to be supporting his family on a limited stipend, nor of his role as something of a glorified stock boy within his clan. But he loves his daughters and speaks rather poetically about his joy in watching them learn and grow (something for which he is mocked). An overbearing uncle attempts to pair him with a new bride, someone whom he deems unattractive but “healthy” (i.e. able to bear children). Seibei reveals himself as a progressive-thinker, refusing to marry a stranger to replace the wife he still grieves over. He does, however, rekindle a relationship with Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa), a divorcee whose ex-husband is a higher-ranking and much more aggressive samurai than Seibei.

Twilight Samurai cover (213x280).jpgAs Seibei and Tomoe grow closer, with the latter taking a maternal shine to Seibei’s children, Twilight never veers into overtly sentimental territory. As a romance, the film never strikes a false note, especially due to sensitive performances by Sanada and Miyazawa. Seibei is resistant to the idea that he marry Tomoe, fearing she will never adjust to life as the wife of a low-ranking samurai. No longer possessed of any drive to fight and live by someone else’s code of honor, Seibei claims to be content living life as a single father. Yamada, who co-scripted with Shuhei Fujisawa and Yoshitaka Asama, keeps the story quietly unpredictable as Seibei’s abilities and loyalty to his clan are repeatedly tested.

Unfortunately it’s apparent immediately from the opening credits that something isn’t quite right with the 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer of The Twilight Samurai. The black levels are lacking in depth, appearing to be more gray than black. The entire film has a blown-out, low contrast look that makes it difficult to assess in conventional terms. Colors are overly dulled as a result. With a little patience, the image isn’t impossible to adjust to, but potential buyers should consider themselves forewarned. It would be a shame if anyone missed out on this great film as a result of an imperfect transfer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack (in Japanese) is excellent, even though the sound design is fairly simple throughout. Isao Tomita’s score is offered as an isolated track.

Despite a far from optimal visual presentation, The Twilight Samurai is an emotionally engrossing drama. For ordering information, while supplies last, visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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