More Buki ! And by the way, just to warn you : there probably will be even more Buki on this blog in the future. Which I can’t imagine anyone complaining about tbh (after all, there’s no such thing as ‘too much Buki’) but I’m just giving you a heads up: I have 2-3 years to watch everything he’s done, and write on it, I made a promise. It’s not gonna come quickly, I’m taking my time, but it’s still coming, so although I’m sure I don’t have to tell you: enjoy the Buki 🙂
And today, we’re discussing The Haunted Samurai, or Tsukigami 憑神, directed and written by Furuhata Yasuo and based on a novel by Asada Jiro. It came out in 2007, and it stars, well, Tsumabuki Satoshi, but also Nishida Toshiyuki, Akai Hidekazu and Morisako Ei. Our lead, Bessho Hikoshiro, is a samurai that’s really down on his luck. Well, to be fair, times are tough for everyone, but he lost his job, got divorced, and although he’s clever, hardworking and honorable, he doesn’t get much recognition, being the second son of the family. Desperate, he gets quite drunk and goes to pray to the deities that made his friend successful, but he gets the wrong altar, and soon gets the visit of three gods he really (and understandably) didn’t want to meet: Poverty, Disease, and Death.
To be fully honest with you, I chose to watch this movie because I thought it would be a horror movie… I didn’t read the synopsis at all, I just saw the word “haunted” in the title and thought “ghosts + Buki = yay, please scare me”. Sadly, the movie didn’t scare me. Less sadly, at least, Buki wasn’t half-shaved (I’m not superficial, I’m just in a Buki’s hair cult). And not even remotely sadly, I liked the movie. Woohoo. Now, you must be wondering “okay, this wasn’t a horror movie, so WHAT WAS IT ?” because your feeble mind desperately needs to put everything in neat little boxes (Buki’s hair judge you). Calm down (srsly, chill :O), I’ll tell you: the Haunted Samurai was… a comedy ? kinda. But it also kinda was a drama. Okay to sum up: it started a little funny, it went on to get a little sad, and it ended a little weird. And I’m certainly not gonna pretend the movie was perfect, but I did like it.
Now, I do have to admit I’m a little biased. Not because of Buki, but because I have a weakness for all fictions taking place in those “end of an era” periods. Those times when people get left behind because the world is changing around them. There’s an inherent melancholy to that, that really gets to me (well of course, it has to be done correctly) and the Haunted Samurai fits right into that, as it takes place in 1867-68, at the end of the shogunate. It starts with the last shogun leaving Edo, and truly takes place at the end of an era for Japan. But I’ll get back on that. (Btw, I’m sorry in advance, but I’m not too familiar with the right English terms for Japan’s history)(and I’m also not an expert on said history)(forgive me)(I’m nice, I swear)(I give you Buki caps:)
(phew, you love me again, let’s continue)
I was very interested in our lead, Hikoshiro. Oh, and let’s get this out of the way: Buki was good in that movie. He makes his character very endearing, and although this is not the performance I would give him all the awards for, he’s funny when he needs to be, touching when he should, and there’s a sweetness to him that I liked. The movie has some really long takes too, and he and his costars showed nice acting in those instances, really bouncing off one another. I do feel it was a little unfair that the movie gave us so many cute interactions with that little girl because my heart came very close to completely melting, and I’d like to keep it working for at least a little longer, but I can’t really resent the movie too much.
So yes: Buki = good, Hikoshiro = interesting, Hikoshiro/Buki + little girl = to die for
Hikoshiro, it seems to me, was two things in that movie. First of all: a dude. And a good one too ! He’s serious, hardworking, and as we quickly learn, he didn’t get sacked from his job because he wasn’t good at it, but because two of his subordinates got into a fight, so he took on the responsibility, and resigned, which also caused a divorce neither he or his wife really wanted. He’s quite bitter because he doesn’t like being a “bum” and living off his family, but still, he’s a pretty neat dude, and I did want to see him overcome obstacles. His whole personal story is him trying once to shift his misery onto others, to spare himself, which, he finds out, goes against who he actually is. So he stands back up, faces things, and regains his pride and honor. That said, I’m not gonna go into details here, because I don’t want to spoil his story. So, to keep summing up: Buki = good, Hikoshiro = interesting, Hikoshiro/Buki + little girl = to die for, and me = invested in character’s story.
What I find more interesting though, is how Hikoshiro (in my opinion at least) stands for the whole system he’s a part of, and how his story seems to mirror that system’s failure. Or at least that how I saw it, with my limited knowledge of Japan’s history (again, sorry)(get more Buki caps:)
(I love that this is probably working…)
(I tried to apologize with Buki pics once at work, but my boss didn’t buy it)
(okay this did not happen)
(I’m not stupid)
(I apologized with OdaJoe pics)
The movie is all about change, and leaving the past behind. Aside from the tone shift (from comedy to a more bittersweet conclusion), we also start the movie with black and white which quickly transitions to colors, and at the end (which I’m not gonna spoil, don’t worry) we get a little glimpse of the future, in modern times, reminding us that all we’ve seen is in the past, time passes, and things change.
The movie, as previously stated, starts in 1867, right when the Edo era is about to end, and the Meiji era about to start. The shogun just left Edo, which has then become lifeless according to the narration. Hikoshiro is particularly affected because his family has a “Kagemusha” duty to the shogun. “Kagemusha” or “shadow warriors” were meant to be doubles, decoys, to protect the real leader. If there’s no shogun, then Hikoshiro really loses his purpose. He’s the shadow of a man that stands for a whole world and system about to disappear. And you could argue that the three gods visiting him are the same three gods that caused the end of the Tokugawa regime. According to the history books I’ve read, the real fall of that regime started in the 1830s, in the “Tempô years”. In 1833, the country was in crisis, because of really bad crops, which caused poverty, misery across the whole country. That in turn (I’m seriously summing up here) created a climate of unrest, with people getting really mad at the higher classes. That would be Poverty. Then, in 1853 (where we start talking of “bakumatsu”) came the black ships, from the USA, lead by Matthew C. Perry. Those ships weren’t the first to reach Japan, but Perry really forced its way in, via aggression and intimidation, and Japan eventually had to end its isolationist policy. As sad as it might sound, for the Edo era/Tokugawa shogunate, that would be Disease, “infecting” Japan, and rending the shogun’s position even more unstable. Which brings us to 1867, where our movie starts. The shogun abdicated in 1867, and on January 3rd 1868, the “imperial power restoration” was announced. Things didn’t get completely settled until may 1869 as some supporters of the shogun were still resisting, but there weren’t many of them, and really, by 1868 (where our movie ends) it was over. That would be Death.
Hikoshiro might escape death (I’ll let you find out), but the Edo period and the Tokugawa shogunate sure didn’t, and that fills the whole movie with a melancholy that I really enjoyed. Because even if Hikoshiro survives, he’s still a fading shadow. Which is why although the movie had some amusing scenes and still did until the end, it also got progressively more and more bittersweet, as the lead got back on his feet while seeing his whole world… wither away. I got actually quite moved by the ending… well at least the first one. Then came the look into the future and the ending music, and it just got… weird. o.o Whether you think the end of Hikoshiro’s story is happy or sad (and, really, you could make a case for both because [spoiler] on one hand Hikoshiro dies, and it’s sad, but on the other hand, he rediscovers the value of his own life before that, and dies with a sense of purpose, a smile on his face : his death has a meaning he felt his life had lost [/spoiler]), it leaves us on a quiet note, and then, suddenly, a very exuberant music comes in. I actually liked the movie’s soundtrack throughout its course, but this was really sudden and left me on a “wtf ?” note.
Also, I felt the comedy was amusing but not super funny (maybe some got lost in translation ?) and by the end, I did feel the movie could have gone a little quicker. All in all, I don’t think the Haunted Samurai is overly memorable. Well maybe that weird ending is, but the movie, otherwise, didn’t have enough impact, I think, to get engraved in my memory: it made me smile but didn’t make me laugh, it made me teary-eyed but didn’t make me bawl. Still it was pleasant, I liked the cast, I liked the lead character, I liked the gods, there were a few nice shots, and I was interested in the setting. I’d definitely say it’s worth a watch, even if you won’t necessarily remember it in a few years 🙂
(I had nothing to apologize for this time, so you’re welcome)