September 6, 2008

‘Love and Honor’ Capable and Stirring

By Bob Strauss

After making close to 50 sentimental "Tora San" movies, director Yoji Yamada embarked on an interesting samurai trilogy that included "The Twilight Samurai,""The Hidden Blade" and now "Love and Honor," which is reportedly the most popular film of the venerable genre ever released in Japan.

That certainly doesn't make it Kurosawa quality (or Kobayashi, or Okamoto; I could go on). But Yamada's interest in the warrior class' domestic, financial and day-to-day working concerns makes for a unique approach, far more about feelings than sword-swinging action. That's engaging enough.

"Love and Honor's" Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) doesn't much care for his job as one of his feudal lord's food tasters, but it pays for a comfortable if modest home for his pretty, devoted wife Kayo (Rei Dan) and their elderly manservant Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano). He dreams of opening a children's fencing school, but all bets are off when a bad piece of sashimi nearly kills Shinnojo and leaves him sightless.

The blind swordsman has long been a Japanese favorite; Takeshi Kitano's 2003 reboot of the "Zatoichi" series may be the best samurai movie of this decade. But those films tend to be fanciful, and Yamada keeps things real and believable. When Shinnojo vows to take revenge after Kayo is compromised, we see just how tough fighting sightless can be.

Beyond that, Yamada is especially good at sowing seeds of doubt between the distraught Shinnojo and his well-meaning wife; both want to hide unpleasant truths from the other and regret learning the truth when it comes out. Otherwise, this is a fairly simple and straightforward drama populated by stock supporting roles. On a similar note, there's not much in the way of visual splendor, but seasons are quite effectively evoked and there's some lovely use of fireflies.

"Love and Honor" may not have the greatest action, character development or formal beauty that Japanese cinema is capable of. But it combines those three elements in a unique and satisfying way.

Bob Strauss (818) 713-3670

[email protected]

LOVE AND HONOR - Three stars

>PG-13: violence, language, adult situations.

>Starring: Takuya Kimura, Rei Dan, Takashi Sasano.

>Director: Yoji Yamada.

>Running time: 2 hr. 1 min.

>Playing: One Colorado, Pasadena; Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

>In a nutshell: Yamada's completion of his samurai trilogy is not the most stirring example of the genre, but affecting in its straightforward storytelling and emotional credibility.

(c) 2008 Daily News; Los Angeles, Calif.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.