28 April 2013 | CountZero313
the mark of Matsumoto
A samurai gives up his sword and deserts his clan, a crime for which he is sentenced to an unusual punishment - make the morose kid of the local Lord smile in 30 days, or commit ritual suicide.
This is a film in three parts; the tonally opaque opening 20 minutes, the mid-section which is a series of comic skits as the hapless samurai (Takaaki Nomi) plugs vainly away at his task, and a final section that turns the genre slightly on its head.
The grubby, goggle-eyed Nomi is a far cry from the usual chanbara samurai. The visual predominance is kept throughout as Nomi says hardly a word in his downward spiral of diminishing dignity. Quite how he will regain that dignity is the journey of this protagonist. Sea Kumada, as his unforgiving daughter, gives a formidable performance as Tae, who excoriates her father for his failures, before rallying to his cause as he ganbarus through his thankless task. Hers will prove the most redeeming journey of all.
As you expect from Matsumoto, who is never afraid to take chances, some of the comedy works better than others. The timing is perfect and the elaborate set ups leading to brief execution and abrupt cuts away are stock of TV skit comedy here, but the transfer to the big screen works well. Three assassins brought in for, ahem, comic relief are rather flat and strained. The ending is less maudlin than it could have been, thanks to the astute reactions of Kumada.
The film is good fun with genuine laugh-out-loud moments. It has more heart than you'd expect, though the ending doesn't quite reach the heights it sets itself. It displays all the marks of Matsumoto, and fans of the Downtown star will not be disappointed.