When The Last Sword Is Drawn – 壬生義士伝 (2003)


This movie directed by Takita Yôjirô was supposedly absolutely great. It won several prizes (Best Film award at the 2004 Japanese Academy Awards, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor…) and since it was about Saito Hajime, Captain of the 3rd Division of Shinsengumi as well as about the end of the Shinsengumi, I guess I was expecting  a lot. Way too much. First deception: Saito Hajime is not really the main character. Let’s say that this role is stolen by the other man, Yoshimura Kanichiro, who is quite his opposite: devoted to his family, honest, ready to sacrifice himself… Too good to be true, which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth at the end of the movie. It is really sad that they did not choose to emphasize on Saito’s character: of course he is harsh, of course he is cruel (these are historical facts), but Yoshimura’s kindness completely eludes him in the second half of the movie. I could not bear this character: too heroic, life is too unfair to him… Director, let’s go back to Saito’s suffering? No. You won’t. Too bad this new hero is too flat and too cliché to be of any interest.

When the Last Sword Is Drawn protagonists

Well, maybe I am a little bit harsh. Let’s go back to the beginning: it starts with an old Saito (who, accurately, survived through the end of the Shogunate) who encounters Yoshimura’s daughter. It reminds him of the past, of course… The first half of the movie is long, and expected, but not bad. The point of view is mostly focused on Saito’s difficult behavior, and I really like the katana sparring sessions at the beginning. After that, when we start to discover the reason why Yoshimura is so greedy, things start to go badly. We have a flash-back in the flash-back, and it is long, so, long… Especially all the time this guy [alert spoilers!] takes to die. I, personally, just got bored. And the movie is quite long (137 minutes) which does not help to counterbalance this feeling. Last but not least, the music were created by Joe Hisaishi, who is one of my favorite Japanese artists, mainly for his work on Mononoke Hime. Sadly, I cannot even remember the music for this one film.


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