Film: The Twilight Samurai
The Twilight Samurai
(or Tasogare Seibei
— たそがれ清兵衛, literally "Twilight Seibei") is a 2002 Japanese film written and directed by Yoji Yamada
. It is the first film in Yamada's acclaimed Samurai Trilogy
, along with The Hidden Blade
and Love and Honor
, all based on the stories of Shuhei Fujisawa
The story takes place in the mid-19th century, a few years before the Meiji Restoration, in a time of rapid change throughout Japan
. Iguchi Seibei
is a humble, low-ranking samurai and widower who must work several jobs to support his family after selling his sword and bankrupting himself to pay for his wife's lavish funeral. In this day and age, samurai have been reduced to petty bureaucrats and pencil-pushers. Seibei spends his days keeping track of the castle's dried cod. His colleagues
nickname him "Twilight Seibei" for his habit of rushing home at the end of his shift rather than staying out with them to enjoy sake and geishas. At home, Seibei tills his own fields and assembles birdcages well into the night to support his two children.
After Seibei gets castigated by the clan's lord for his disheveled appearance, his wealthier uncle decides to arrange a marriage for Seibei to ease his domestic burdens. Seibe refuses to marry just to receive a servant, and instead prefers to marry a woman who will share his love for his daughters. When Seibei's old friend Iinuma Michinojo pays a visit from Edo, he learns that Iinuma's sister Tomoe, another childhood friend, has recently divorced her alcoholic husband Koda
and now lives in shame. Seibei and Tomoe respark their old friendship, but their courtship is chaste
. When a drunken Koda emerges and challenges Iinuma to a duel for the return of his estranged wife, Seibei steps in and accepts the challenge on Iinuma's behalf.
It turns out that Seibei was once an instructor at a prestigious fencing school, and is quite a swordsman. He defeats Koda easily using only a wooden stick, leaving the man alive. When the clan elders hear of Seibei's skill, they quickly summon him to perform a task. Humble Seibei is reluctant to enter the dangerous world of clan politics, but he has no choice. The elders charge him with executing Yogo Zen'emon, a powerful warrior who has refused an imperial order to commit seppuku. Seibei meets with Yogo Zen'emon, and the two share a heartfelt conversation about having lost their families. However, when Seibei reveals that he does not own a sword, and intended on fighting Yogo with his wakizashi, Yogo is enraged and attacks him. Seibei defeats the warrior and returns home alive. He reunites with Tomoe and the two are married.
The film is narrated by Seibei's younger daughter Ito, her own old age drawing near, in what is presumably the Taishō period.
At the 76th Academy Awards
, The Twilight Samurai
was nominated for (but lost
) the award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also won an unprecedented twelve Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.
This movie provides examples of:
- The Ace - Yogo Zen'emon.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene - Inverted: a samurai film dominated by quiet scenes but punctuated with the odd gritty action scene that serves mostly to heighten the intensity of those quiet scenes. Akira Kurosawa meets Chekhov, if you will.
- Actual Pacifist - Seibei would like to be one, but his status (and skill) as a samurai makes this increasingly difficult.
- The Alcoholic - Tomoe's ex-husband — a brutish example.
- All of the Other Reindeer - Seibei's coworkers. At least until they realize he Minored in Asskicking. (Alas, after that ... somehow things got worse.)
- Alpha Bitch - Arguably Iinuma's wife, at least at times. Not so much how she is as how we get to see her — namely, meddling.
- Possibly Seibei's late wife. Difficult to know, since we never see her alive and different people project different things on her.
- Always Save the Girl - Wouldn't you save Tomoe if you had the chance?
- Always Someone Better - Yogo Zen'emon.
- Ambiguously Gay - One of Seibei's coworkers.
- Anachronism Stew: Carefully averted.
- Anguished Declaration of Love - A particularly heartbreaking one.
- Annoying Younger Sibling - Ito, Seibei's younger daughter, loves to make trouble for his elder daughter Kayano.
- Anti-Villain - Yogo Zen'emon.
- Arranged Marriage - This was virtually a given in that time and place and social stratum.
- The Atoner - Seibei feels he ruined his late wife's life, and possibly even brought about her death. That's one of the reasons he bankrupts himself and sells his family sword to pay for her lavish funeral.
- Iinuma, toward his younger sister Tomoe, for marrying her off to a powerful samurai who turned out to be a brutal drunk.
- Also, Yogo Zen'emon.
- Badass - Yogo Zen'emon.
- Badass Bookworm - Seibei. But, to everyone's consternation, he'd prefer not to be a badass.
- Badass Pacifist - Seibei. Until events suck him in.
- Beware the Nice Ones - Seibei.
- Bittersweet Ending - Ito reveals that after all he'd gone through for his happy ending, Seibei was killed only three years later in battle during the Boshin War. However, Ito insists that her father died a happy man.
- Blood Knight: An Averted Trope: for the most part, the samurai are bureaucrats.
- Bloodless Carnage: According to Word of God, the movie is intended as a subversion.
- Born in the Wrong Century - A recurring theme. Because the times are changing so quickly, there's a tremendous feeling of being out of place, although the more thoughtful characters are generally torn between feeling they were born too late and born too early.
- Bratty Half-Pint - Ito, Seibei's younger daughter, at times.
- Broken Ace - Zen'emon.
- Cannot Spit It Out - Seibei, toward Tomoe. Even when Iinuma gives him an ultimatum.
- Tomoe herself is an unusual example, or perhaps a subversion: she'd probably confess her feelings to Seibei immediately if that were a socially permissible thing for a woman to do in that time period.
- Chaste Hero - Seibei. He avoids the geishas his coworkers hang out with, and he refuses to consider remarrying. Or at least he puts on a brave face until he's confronted with the likelihood of his own proximate death — and simultaneously presented with his chance to redeem his family from financial ruin. Then he wastes no time proposing to Tomoe in an anguishing and Anguished Declaration of Love. (Hey, he's chaste, not Asexual.)
- Chekhov's Gun- Notice the small look Zen'emon gives the doorframe before the duel. Also the fact that Seibei is very good at using a short sword.
- Cherry Tapping - Seibei's duel with Koda.
- Childhood Friend Romance - Tomoe. (Or Seibei, depending on how you look at it.)
- Childhood Marriage Promise - Not stated outright, but hinted at. At any rate, from his childhood, Seibei dreamed of marrying Tomoe, and somehow that dream didn't truly die even after they each got married to other people.
- Children Are Innocent - Yes, with some reservations. They're Wise Beyond Their Years, and they've had more than their fair share of suffering, but they're morally innocent.
- "We knew somehow, in our naive child hearts, something had happened between Father and Tomoe, but we could not bring ourselves to ask it."
- Christmas Cake: An Averted Trope. Presumably Tomoe must be at least in her mid-to-late twenties by the time the film opens, since she seems to have gotten married not that long after Seibei, and Seibei's older daughter Kayano is about ten, meaning Tomoe was presumably married for eleven years or more. And Tomoe has another strike against her: she's a "returned bride" (i.e., divorced). Nevertheless, Tomoe's brother Iinuma is fighting off suitors left and right. Or at least, he fends them off until he offers Seibei a chance. (Seibei blows it.)
- Closer to Earth - How Seibei views his late wife but she's arguably a subversion, if we're to go by Tomoe.
- Tomoe herself might be an example played straight.
- An even more straightforward example would be Iinuma and his wife.
- Contemplate Our Navels - When Seibei meets Yogo Zen'emon in Yogo's house, before their final duel. Seibei is just there to do his job, and his job happens to be to kill Yogo. Yogo wants answers before he dies. But whether there are answers to his questions — aside from trite ones along the lines of "well, life isn't fair" — is open to debate.
- Cool Big Sis - Kayano toward Ito. On a more figurative level, Tomoe toward both Kayano and Ito — although she is perhaps more literally a doting substitute parent.
- Crapsack World / World Half Empty - At least according to Yogo Zen'emon. (Not that he doesn't have good reason.)
- Daimyo - Two of them. Early in the film, Seibei embarrasses himself in front of the really nice young daimyo running his clan. Later, after the young man dies and an internal rift nearly tears apart the clan, he's summoned to meet the much more vicious successor.
- Although Seibei was lucky enough to get away with a (mild) reprimand. His superior points out that if it had been the daimyo's father, he would have probably been forced to commit seppuku.
- Damsel in Distress - Tomoe.
- Dawn of an Era - The times they are a-changin'.
- Deconstruction - Of samurai movies. In particular, The Twilight Samurai attempts to debunk a lot of mythologizing and shows samurai as regular people with regular problems, just trying to go about their lives in a gritty and difficult world, rather than as superheroes ever eager for the next glorious battle or duel.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance - A little. It is a different time, after all.
- The Ditz - Iinuma isn't stupid. He just acts like it. Sometimes.
- One of Seibei's servants is illiterate, slow, forgetful, and quite possibly mildly retarded. He's also earnest, sweet, hard-working, and kind of adorable. May be more an example of The Fool.
- Dogged Nice Guy - Tomoe.
- Doting Parent - Seibei. Which makes him a freak as far as everyone else is concerned. Everyone, that is, until his unlucky childhood friend Tomoe makes her return.
- Tomoe is a doting substitute parent — crossed with a Cool Big Sis. By the end of the film, we learn from the narrator, she has also been a doting stepparent.
- Driven to Suicide - Subverted with Yogo Zen'emon, who refuses to commit seppuku when the clan orders him to.
- Played straight with most of the other samurai and noblemen ordered to commit seppuku.
- Earn Your Happy Ending - Whatever happiness Seibei gets, he certainly earns it.
- Edo Period -
- End of an Age - The time for samurai is over. Almost everyone seems to realize this. Seibei seems to think he'll become a farmer.
- Every Japanese Sword Is a Katana - Averted.
- Everything's Better with Samurai - Except that these samurai are generally more like accountants.
- Extreme Doormat - Cleverly subverted with Tomoe. She can be tough as nails when she has to be, and in some ways she's the most recognizably "modern" major character in the whole movie.
- Face Framed in Shadow: Yogo Zen'emon, all the time.
- Failure Knight - Yogo Zen'emon.
- First Name Basis - Inverted when Tomoe tells her ex-husband Captain Koda he's no longer on a First Name Basis with her.
- Foil - Seibei has several, each reflecting different aspects of him. A few include:
- Yogo Zen'emon.
- The Fool: See The Ditz. above.
- Geisha: Seibei's coworkers hang out with them. (Chaste Hero Seibei does not.)
- Genki Girl - Tomoe was almost definitely a Genki Girl as a child and probably into her teen years. Even now, her character retains genki aspects, although she's sadder and much wiser now.
- Growing Up Sucks - Tomoe embarrasses Seibei by telling his daughters that Growing Up Sucks, especially if you're a girl — and especially if you're a tomboy in an era that expects you to be ladylike. (Nevertheless, Tomoe turned out okay.)
- The Hero - Seibei.
- Heroes Gone Fishing - Seibei and Iinuma.
- Hidden Depths: The point of the title, and a recurring theme throughout the movie.
- Honor Before Reason - Played with in various ways.
- Hope Spot - Implied in the seconds between when we learn Seibei married Tomoe and when we learn he died soon after in the Boshin War.
- In the final dual, Yogo Zen'emon has a more standard one.
- Instant Death Sword - According to Word of God, it was intended as a subversion.
- Japanese Honorifics
- Jerkass - The most straightforward example is Tomoe's ex-husband, Captain Koda.
- Jerk Jock - Captain Koda. Or at least the samurai equivalent. See Jerkass, above.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold - Yogo Zen'emon.
- Jidai Geki
- Just Friends - Seibei, toward Tomoe. See Oblivious to Love, below.
- Katanas Are Just Better - Subverted. Seibei has sold his katana and must use a stick and a wakizashi to defeat two katana-wielding opponents.
- The Lancer - Iinuma.
- Loners Are Freaks - How Seibei's coworkers view him; in fact, that's what the movie's title refers to. Subverted: Seibei is very grounded; he just values time with his children over time with his coworkers and the possibility of advancement.
- Love Hurts - Especially when those you love have a nasty habit of dying.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl - Admittedly, Tomoe but she's an older and wiser Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
- Martial Pacifist - Seibei. Or at least, Seibei as a young man, before he settled down, got married, had kids.
- Minored in Asskicking - Seibei.
- Missing Mom - In the opening seconds of the film, Seibei's daughters, Kayano and Ito, lose their mother to tuberculosis. Actually, because she had been so sick and so infectious, in a way they had already lost her three years earlier.
- My Greatest Failure - See The Atoner.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits! - One of Seibei's concerns, regarding Tomoe, who is the younger sister of his best friend Iinuma.
- Narrator - Ito, Seibei's younger daughter, presumably from at least half a century after the main events of the film.
- Also, Yogo Zen'emon's regarding his late wife and daughter.
- Nice Guy - Seibei.
- Also Iinuma.
- Tomoe, even though she is not a guy.
- Not So Different - Part of the Breaking Lecture delivered by Yogo Zen'emon before the final duel.
- Oblivious to Love - Seibei, toward Tomoe. An unusual case, in that it's not a question of his failing to pay attention. Rather, he's The Stoic, and he doesn't believe he's worthy of Tomoe's love. So it's easier for him to pretend that he and Tomoe are Just Friends rather than reopen himself to another of his Tragic Dreams.
- Ojou - Iinuma's wife.
- Possibly Tomoe.
- Seibei's late wife.
- If you listen to the dialogue, both Seibei's daughters are addressed as the Ojou because they are of the Samurai class. In practice though, they are just ordinary little girls.
- Period Piece
- Perpetual Poverty - Not truly poverty (not for Seibei, at least, although upstream the peasants have been literally starving after a disastrous crop failure). Seibe's family has food, servants, a home, a yard, animals. But they're forever broke, and deep in debt, and Seibei seems to work so much one wonders when (or if) he sleeps.
- The Philosopher - Seibei is more of the quiet, contemplative variety.
- To some extent, Tomoe.
- Yogo Zen'emon.
- Plucky Comic Relief - Seibei's friend Iinuma.
- Seibei's daughters, Kayano and Ito.
- Also his servants, although they tend to vanish into the background on first viewing.
- And his boss.
- Plucky Girl - Tomoe.
- Pointy-Haired Boss - Played with. Ultimately, his immediate superior in the clan turns out to be a decent guy.
- Politically Correct History - A lot of the characters seem way ahead of their time with regards to feminism, classism, and so on. Tomoe most of all.
- Puppy Love - In-universe; it's not seen onscreen, but this is how Tomoe speaks of her childhood friendship with Seibei. (This scene doubles as present-day Ship Tease, as Tomoe embarrasses Seibei in front of his daughters but in doing so begins to draw him out of his shell.)
- Reality Ensues: A theme throughout the story. Especially when Zen'emon gets his katana stuck.
- Relationship Upgrade - Several, between Seibei and Tomoe, each of them hard-earned and at least a little bittersweet. The most crucial of them comes right at the end, off-screen, when Seibei and Tomoe finally become man and wife. Then, mere seconds later, we have the rug pulled out from under us when we learn Seibei died only two years later in the Boshin War.
- Reluctant Warrior - Seibei.
- Rescue Romance - Some might see this dynamic at play. More likely exploited, in that Tomoe already loved Seibei, and his defense of her honor merely gave her the pretext she needed to take a role in his, and his family's, life. A role, not coincidentally, fairly similar to that expected of a good House Wife of the time — of course, minus the sexual component.
- Ronin - None seen onscreen, but Iinuma complains about their rude and violent behavior in Edo. Part of the theme of how the times are changing; no one really needs samurai anymore.
- Zen'emon confess that he was one of these for a time. His failure shames him to this day, but not for the typical reasons.
- Same Story, Different Names: The Twilight Samurai and its Spiritual Successor The Hidden Blade (Kakushi ken oni no tsume) are both about a poor, extremely humble samurai who just wants to live a simple life. At the same time as he falls in love, he gets dragged against his will into the violent world of politics, in both cases because of a rare technique of swordsmanship he possesses. Ultimately he uses his technique to escape from his predicament and gets married. Both films are written and directed by Yoji Yamada, based on the stories of Shuhei Fujisawa.
- Samurai - Except for a few servants, peasants, villagers, and nobleman — none of them major characters — all the males in the film are samurai but the vast majority of them are bureaucrats more than soldiers.
- Scenery Porn
- Selective Obliviousness - Seibei. See Oblivious to Love, above.
- Seppuku - Discussed on occasion. Some occurs, but way offscreen, to characters we know nothing about. See also Honor Before Reason and Driven to Suicide.
- Subverted with Yogo Zen'emon, when the new daimyo of his clan orders him to commit seppuku, but Yogo refuses on the grounds that he was just following the orders of his master.
- She Is Not Going to Be My Wife - Played for humor at first but then more and more for pathos.
- Ship Tease: Between Seibei and Tomoe.
- Shrinking Violet - Seibei is no coward, but he has difficulty opening up.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man - Tomoe, toward Seibei. Except Seibei sees himself as unworthy.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism - Ito's idealistic, and deeply loving, narration helps prevent the film from bogging down too heavily in cynicism.
- The Smart Guy - Seibei.
- The Stoic - Seibei.
- Yogo Zen'emon tries so hard to be one, but, in the end, fails. Then again, there's only so much suffering anyone can take.
- Take a Third Option - Subverted during the final duel.
- Title Drop: Early in the film, narrator Ito mentions that the colleagues of her father, Seibei, derisively nickname him "Tasogare Seibei," which is "Twilight" appended to his name (Seibei). ("Tasogare Seibei" is also the Japanese title of the film.) The nickname pops up in the dialogue occasionally, although evidently it dies out after a panicked discussion among Seibei's coworkers when word gets out that Seibei defeated Captain Koda in a duel — using just a polished stick against Koda's katana.
- Tomboy - Tomoe, when she was a child. She indicates this in the scene where she teases Seibei (and also, subtly, flirts with him) by telling his daughters Kayano and Ito right in front of him how awful it is to be a girl, and how sad she was when she reached Kayano's age and had to give up climbing trees and playing with boys and exchange it for being ladylike and learning to sew kimono. In spite of her faintly mocking tone, she's clearly serious.
- Tragic Dream - Seibei is filled with them. Some of them come true, but never in the manner he had hoped. See also Yank the Dog's Chain, below.
- The same is true for Tomoe.
- Try Not to Die - A non-flippant version when Tomoe is almost too choked up to bid farewell to Seibei as he leaves for his final duel against Yogo Zen'emon. Possibly just a rare example played for drama rather than laughs.
- Two-Teacher School - One-teacher school, in fact. Justified in that it's a village schoolhouse with barely a dozen students.
- Values Dissonance - In-universe example, between the old ways and the new ways.
- Warrior Poet - Seibei. Except he'd really rather not be a warrior-anything.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist - Iinuma.
- Wise Beyond Their Years - Seibei's daughters Kayano and Ito. Played up by the narration, which is by Ito looking back from the vantage of a middle-aged or elderly lady. Although Kayano is about ten and Ito is about five, they're aware of, worried about, and even occasionally engaged in, the serious problems facing their family.
- Wooden Katanas Are Even Better - Subverted when Yogo Zen'emon learns Seibei's katana is made of wood and decides Seibei is not taking him seriously. You should always take Yogo Zen'emon seriously. Always.
- Played with earlier in the film, when Seibei uses a polished stick instead of a katana in his duel with Koda. Possibly a triple subversion considering how things end up.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: Discussed by Tomoe with Seibei's daughters: women are supposed to be lady-like and sew and are not supposed to climb trees. This does not mean 'doormat' as Tomoe herself left a bad husband rather than stay there and exploits his return to net herself a better one.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Several including the ending itself.
- This is also the entire life of Yogo Zen'emon.