Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenplay by Yoshihiro Nakamura
For three years running, director Yoshihiro Nakamura has captured the hearts of Fantastic Fest attendees. Fish Story (2009) and Golden Slumbers (2010) both took home honorable mentions in the audience award category, and this year’s A Boy and His Samurai straight up won. It’s not hard to understand–in a festival that celebrates cool detachment, stylish action and human centipedes, Nakamura’s earnest playfulness is refreshing. A Boy and His Samurai has some clear problems, but not one diminishes the joy this film skillfully incites.
Unlike Nakamura’s other efforts, Samurai is an out and out family film. The recipe is thus: one unstoppably adorable child, Tomoyo (Fuku Suzuki), is raised by his hard-working single mother, Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka). A literal samurai, Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) drops into their lives from the late Edo period, dressed to the samurai nines and understanding nothing of modern technology or social norms. The film proceeds under the assumption that having a young child and a befuddled, time-traveling samurai interact is more than enough to build a film around–and it’s totally true. A Boy and His Samurai is delightful. And by the end of the film, mother, son, and samurai will all learn a thing or two about their own priorities and, damn it, you, sitting out there in the audience thinking you don’t believe in love or magic–you will probably tear up.
It’s tempting to leave it at that because criticizing this film feels downright cynical and cruel. But it’s got some problems. Firstly, the conflict here is soft. Aside from one incredibly powerful and sad scene between Yasube and Hiroko towards the conclusion, none of the danger or hurt that arises seems real. Samurai has a unflappably buoyant air, and Nakamura rarely seems ready to endanger the film’s carefully cultivated safeness. The film aspires simply to kill time between displays of selfless affection, and, as such, the film is also bizarrely paced. The film is thoroughly enjoyable throughout, but scenes will meander on pointlessly for ages. All that said–this is a funny film. This is the kind of film that could definitely be a crossover hit playing a limited run in the States. The formula is blunt but incredibly well executed and the actors are all fully committed and engaging. Samurai’s second greatest success is Yasube. Perhaps his arc is only satisfying because Yasube is the single character who experiences real existential conflict here, but Ryo Nishikikido believably and hilariously embodies all of the archaic stiffness of the samurai way, and his transformation feels true and earned. The film’s primary success, and the reason audiences should and probably will see it, is that it is adorable.
FantsticFest runs from September 22nd – 29th – visit their official website.