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Movie Review: Twilight Samurai

Alternate Title: Cerebral Samurai

Story: Just when he thought he could get out, they pulled him back! No, this is not a line from The Godfather but the premise of this wonderful film about a contrary Samurai who would rather farm than fight (hmm, that's a good bumper sticker). This was nominated for Best Foreign Film last year.

It is Japan in the 1860s. It is the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji Period (when the rest of the world was introduced to the wonders of Japan). I learned much about the Samurai culture watching this film. It is NOT the big, sprawling, unreal Samurai world of last year's Tom Cruise flick. It seems there were levels of Samurai and your caste dictated your salary and your place in the community.

We meet our widower hero, Seibei, whose Samurai level is similar to that of a file clerk. He works hard and struggles to care for his two young daughters and aging, senile mother. He loves his life, however hard and wants no part of clan fighting anymore. Woe is me....this is not going to happen.

Co-writer and director Yoji Yamada abandons his usual slice and dice sword fighting and while this is a historical piece its themes are very contemporary. The big picture involves honor, duty and the end of an era for a country that was reluctantly about to meet the rest of the world. The smaller picture has familiar themes such as childcare, eldercare, spousal abuse, shame and redemption.

This is a slow, evolving film that demands a bit of patience from the audience but well worth your time. Ah, so.

Acting: Hiroyuki Sanada as our Samurai is wonderful. You might recognize him from Tom Cruise's film, The Last Samurai. The acting throughout is terrific and the two children are beyond adorable.

Predilection: None.

Critters: Chickens.

Food: Lots of tea and stuff that looked like pea soup brewing in a pot.

Blatant Product Placement: None.

Soundtrack: If this had been a Hollywood film the violins would have been out of control but luckily they dialed back the strings that can pull at one's heart.

Theater Audience: There were about 20 people in this early Saturday morning show. I laughed when I realized that just about everyone, including me, was reading the New York Times while waiting for the film to start. The weekend paper is so fat that one has to read wherever and whenever one can just to get through the paper before Monday's paper comes slamming at your door. Oh, the pressure!

Sappy Factor: 2

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: 1- Swords make me squirm.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: I welled a bit at the end.

Oscar Worthy: Obviously. It was nominated, but did not win. It lost to The Barbarian Invasion.

Nit Picking: It was a little too long for my taste.

Big Screen or Rental: Big screen, for sure. To see the exact opposite approach to a similar topic, try renting The Last Samurai.

Length: 129 minutes (over the two hour Lobo rule).