It has to be noted from the beginning The Samurai That Night has no Samurais. There are no scenes involving men jumping off rooftops nor are there any sword fights – unless you count the kitchen knife encounter at the end. It doesn’t even have heads being decapitated. If you were looking for some Samurai action then check out something by Akira Kurosawa instead because the most engaging action this film has to offer is between the main protagonist and some custard. That’s right – custard.
Kenichi Nakamura (Masato Sakai) is a manager of a small, Japanese ironworks foundry and remains at work for long hours to avoid talking to his interfering, over protective wife. Returning home from a shopping trip however Nakamura’s wife is run over by a truck driver – who considers the incident a pure accident and drives away without remorse, leaving her to die. Five years after her death, Nakamura continues to mourn for his wife by eating dinner next to her cremated ashes, soaking himself in her clothes and listening to an ignored phone message instructing him to stop eating custard. His brother-in-law, Aoki (Hirofumi Arai), encourages him to meet other women to help him move on, however their planned blind date fail miserably.
Hiroshi Kijima (Takayuki Yamada), the truck driver, was eventually caught and served a jail sentence for his crimes. Upon his release however he receives death threats by Nakamura in the post – counting down the days until the fifth anniversary of his wife’s death. Most of the film spans across the final few days where Nakamura mentally prepares himself for the fateful day – but will he be strong enough to kill Kijima… and himself as he prophesied? Grounded in shadows, long pauses and dry humour – The Samurai That Night deals with vengeance and inner demons one man needs to fight in order to be set free.
With a history of acting and directing on stage, writer/director Masaaki Akahori has adapted one of his own plays and projects it to the big screen with great success. There is little not to like about this movie. As a first feature, it’s very well executed, all the characters played their respective roles with passion and while the repetitive elements of the film may seem tedious to watch – it only reflects the mental psychosis of Nakamura.
Sakai’s portrayal of Nakamura is devastatingly tragic. Almost haunting. With very little facial expression he’s still able to illustrate a man ridden with guilt and shame for not speaking to his wife before her accident. At one of the blind dates, Nakamura expresses how his wife used to be a terrible cook and would often ruin his appetite – yet his faces tells another story, one that he would do anything for another horrible meal if it would mean seeing his wife again.
Nakamura’s true antagonist is the sadistic Kijima (played brilliantly by Yamada) who can also be demeaning, spiteful and terribly savage. The extremity of his character is presented in the way he reacts to people. A poor, female traffic warden attempts to redirect Kijima from lorry incident ahead however he steals her purse offering to only return it if she sleeps with him. Another encounter involves drenching a man with petrol because he allegedly told their residential community the real reason why Kijima went to jail and thus is unable to live with the shame.
Akahori uses these prime characters to build a great deal of suspense throughout the whole film. Due to their unpredictable nature, the story does not take an obvious path and surprises the audience with every turn. While Nakamura is patient and methodical, Kijima is often brutal, using violence to express himself – however what slowly unravels is that Nakamura is on a path of self destruction and the climax presents a showdown unlike anything you have ever seen.
The Samurai That Night will not be for all audiences. The pacing does dip at certain moments and with it being visually raw it lacks that cinematic, aesthetic appeal offering character close ups instead. But these are nitpicks to a well executed first feature that deals with psychologically disturbed characters in a simple world. It’s also very well edited, using the atmospheric noise rather than a musical score to set its gritty locations. The cinematography is especially well crafted where shadows can still be seen during a well lit day – perhaps representing the notion that dark matter resides in all of us. The use of dry humour dipped in misery is wonderful as it appears in moments when you least expect it: Nakamura explains to his date that he isn’t the man she’s looking for as he’s still in love with his wife, and takes out her bra from his pocket to illustrate this.
Akahori’s ‘Samurai’ is not one who welds a sword or wears an armour – but a man who abides by a code and lives a disciplined lifestyle. After ignoring his wife’s last phone message to avoid eating custard, Nakamura treats the food as a peace offering. He merges his impulses, closure and resolution in one swift movement. And with it, earns the compassion of the audience to an already compelling story.
Reviewed by Vaskar S. Kayastha