Friday, 14 August 2020

Alternate Best Actor 2002: Hiroyuki Sanada in The Twlight Samurai

Hiroyuki Sanada did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Seibei Iguchi in The Twilight Samurai.

The Twilight Samurai is a wonderful film depicting a widower samurai near the end of the feudal system.

If I may quickly bemoan the Hollywood mentality when it comes to foreign language actors. Where evidently they wish to cast them after seeing or at least hearing of their work in their own home countries then only to cast them in largely thin and generic roles. That is of course the case for Hiroyuki Sanada, though I will say that always creates a bit of a bread crumb trail for me to find what was that sparked this interest to begin with. Well here it takes me to this film, where I'll admit I always have a bit of enthusiasm to find Japanese cinema outside of the golden era, given sadly so little of it makes an international impression. This film being both a throwback and modernization I'd say on so many of the films of that golden era however, being based around the life of the samurai. The difference being that our central character of Seibei Iguchi isn't some great lord or general, nor is he a renegade ronin or something. He's really just a guy who happens to be a samurai. Well and Hiroyuki Sanada's performance is wonderful by portraying him just as that. This in the early scenes of the film where we see him interacting in his little home with his 2 daughters and his mother. Sanada bring such a fantastic unassuming quality to his work. This in just a guy really very much content within this existence and most importantly brings this warmth within his interactions with his family. There's such a sense of love in his eyes and we see a man who really adores his existence in a certain sense.

We witness though Seibei interact within society where things are a little different however from that contentment within his home life, no matter how simple or small his surroundings might be. In this we see Sanada portray this certain shyness within the samurai as he must interact with the feudal hierarchy,  however as a man unable to really deliver on the pomp or circumstance requested for his class of samurai. This to the point that when he ponders if he could maybe someday be a farmer instead of being a samurai Sanada delivery is of just this earnest question of a man who really would rather live as such. Sanada shows the shyness really in this sense of a man who knows he will be looked upon with ridicule by other along with this sense of unease largely by the nature of the life he really has no great comfort with. This when he is admonished for his somewhat unkempt demeanor Sanada is great in showing that rather it really being a blow to his pride it rather just the intense reactions of others that causes a sense of any distress. This as Sanada shows a man really just wanting to do the best to succeed with his family and with those around him rather than holding a need to be seen anything more than he fact Seibei might honestly be fine with being seen as less if it would help his circumstances. Sanada creates the right sympathy for this though in creating that understated quality of the man who isn't looking to make a big splash but rather just float within the joys he does have.

Things change slightly when an old childhood sweetheart returns, Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) who comes to stay with his family and reminisce though no romance is spoken of. Sanada's chemistry with Miyazawa is pitch perfect. This in as Sanada brings a genuine charm within that warmth he brings with the interactions and a strong sense of their connection from the past. In that though he grants still that hesitation and shyness of the relationship of old now technically detached. Sanada being terrific again in showing the man's very palatable love for her in glimpses though hidden still within his nearly always retiring manner. This even when Seibei is proposed the idea of marrying Tomoe through an intermediary, Sanada honestly is heartbreaking through how genuine he makes Sanada's distress in the moment. This in reacting with embarrassment as though it would be ridiculous for a woman of some status to marry a samurai of his low standing of wealth. Sanada is great as he speaks every word of his own struggle with his former wife due to the very little he makes from being a retainer samurai. Sanada is fantastic in bringing such a quiet heartbreak within every word of Seibei struggle that shows the man's wish more than anything to avoid further complication knowing how life can be difficult within poverty. Sanada emphasizing the man's vulnerability of this beautifully within the man's modest style as a person.

The one place where it seems that perhaps there is more to Seibei than meets most eyes as the samurai derided by most as the "twilight samurai" that is in dueling. This we initially see as he defends a friend from an ornery samurai through fighting with a wooden sword. In this duel though Sanada's performance is important as he presents a man directly to the point in every action. This as a man attempting to end the conflict as quickly as possible, not as a purposeful badass but really an accidental one. This in he grants the sense of conviction but only to finish the fight, not to relish in any sense of defeat. This as we see after the successful duel, Sanada's manner shows a man looking down and away, along with a timid voice that denies any great feat or any great skill within himself. This again showing a man avoiding being beyond his source of contentment within his family. Eventually though pressed to take on a rogue samurai by his Zenemon Yogo (Min Tanaka) who has balked at a request harakiri and instead killing anyone who approaches his home. Although in his usual manner Sanada depicts the man avoiding really pushing his boundaries, but eventually is forced to through the demands of his lords.

We then see different shades of the man one real and one sort of fake. The real one is when he decides to take the chance to fully declare his love to Tomoe. This is an amazing scene for Sanada as the earned pride in the moment, and the reflection of the internalized love now externalized is palatable. This made heartbreaking when it appears she can't accept because she's accepted a different proposal. Sanada's switch back to the man's old self is heartbreaking, as in his eyes you see the man's being torn up from it but he speaks with just quiet assurances that he was foolish to make any such request. Now there Sanada showed a real different side, however in his intention as a lord's warrior we see the false side. This in Sanada showing the man basically trying to be the cold calm samurai as he approaches his task, and faces the man in his home. Sanada's manner though instantly reverts when the Yogo instead surprises him by inviting him to a drink to discuss their mutual lives of hardship despite their status as samurai. Sanada is outstanding in the scene in his reflections upon Seibei's hard life particularly regarding the death of his wife. This as Sanada brings the right somberness but almost this comical manner of laughing upon his own misfortunes given how poverty seemed to create one problem after another for himself. Sanada in the moment granting this idea of truly living the memory within his head as he speaks the words to Yogo. Sadly these troubles eventually amount to Yogo believing Seibei isn't taking the man seriously leading to a duel after all. Again I love the way Sanada makes the inherent skill of the man a given as he attempts to avoid killing the man as long as he can in this state of consistent control but never hateful violence. This within the overarching idea of the character that Hiroyuki Sanada so beautifully realizes This as a samurai who is defined through his love for his simple life and his family, not his ambitions of any kind. This creating a uniquely moving portrait of a samurai in turn, one of quiet power of a family man just trying to life his simple life.


Luke Higham said...

Thank goodness, extremely happy about this.

Ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: If you ever had the time, would you've considered playing Ghost Of Tsushima.

Mitchell Murray said...

Personally, I've always liked Sanada - even in his small roles from "The Last Samurai" or "The Wolverine" - so I'm certainly interested in seeing this film.

Matt Mustin said...

Anyone else looking forward to Fargo season 4 in September? I have my reservations about Chris Rock, but I'm still excited to see what they do with the story.


Hey guys!
Say your TOP 5 for best director of 2002:

5º Peter Jackson - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
4º Steven Spielberg - Catch Me If You Can
3º Martin Scorsese - Gangs of New York
2º Roman Polanski - The Pianist
1º Fernando Meirelles - City of God

Matt Mustin said...

I'm gonna hold off on my director top 5 until I've seen at least The Pianist.

Mitchell Murray said...

Matt: I'll probably check it out at some point. Admittedly, "Fargo" is a bit of a strange show for myself, in that I enjoyed Season's 1 and 2 right off the bat, but took a little longer in warming up to Season 3. Of course the consistent element of all those seasons is it's strong leading performances, which makes me even more unsure of Chris Rock, but at least there's a lively supporting cast should he be underwhelming.

Bryan L. said...


1. Fernando Meirelles - City of God
2. Roman Polanski - The Pianist (Very close)
3. Peter Jackson - The Two Towers
4. Sam Mendes - Road to Perdition
5. Steven Spielberg - Catch Me if You Can (Could go with Yamada here though)

Mitchell Murray said...

Also, I'm going to follow in Matt's footsteps and hold off on my director list, as I haven't watched "City of God".

Emi Grant said...

Mitchell: Season 3 is probably the most divisive for most, so I don't blame you for that. I actually prefer Seasons 1 and 2 a lot more than Season 3.

As for Season 4, while Chris Rock certainly seems like an odd choice, I think I trust him based off of the interviews he's given for the show. It kinda seems like he's genuinely passionate about it. Even then, the sheer scope of Season 4 seems grandiose (perhaps bigger than S2), and I'm all up for it.

Mitchell Murray said...

Emi: Looking back, I think I've come to appreciate all three seasons about the same, all for different reasons. One was a rather contained, cohesive story and had two terrific characters anchoring it throughout. Two took a more ambitious approach in terms of it's scale, and did a surprising amount with it's 70's setting/wackier array of characters. And then three sort of managed to do both, since it had the grounded, modern era of the first season, along with the more off kilter proceedings of the second.

I might also point out that the show's female characters improved with each series; If I'm being honest, for as much as I like Peggy, I think I prefer the Gloria/Nikki combo ever so slightly.

Jack Narrator said...


1. Fernando Meirelles - City of God
2. Roman Polanski - The Pianist
3. Yôji Yamada - The Twlight Samurai
4. Steven Spielberg - Catch Me if You Can
5. Peter Jackson - The Two Towers

Calvin Law said...

One thing I particularly loved about his performance was that moment where he admits to hating his uncle - it just feels so cathartic and heartwarming to hear him break out of his mould in the presence of his daughters.

So happy with this and glad you agree he’s under-utilised. What were your thoughts on the direction, screenplay and cinematography? I thought they were all very understated and simple, but in a very beautiful, eloquent way.

Emi Grant said...

Mitchell: I'm a bit more inclined to Molly Solverson and Peggy personally, if mostly because the ending for Swango still irks me a bit.

To anyone who has watched the show, which would be your Top 10 performances from across the 3 seasons? Mine would be:

1. Billy Bob Thornton - Season 1
2. Kirsten Dunst - Season 2
3. Martin Freeman - Season 1
4. David Thewlis - Season 3
5. Jeffrey Donovan - Season 2
6. Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Season 3
7. Patrick Wilson - Season 2
8. Ewan McGregor - Season 3
9. Bokeem Woodbine - Season 2
10. Jean Smart - Season 2

Calvin Law said...

Also, for me:

Best Director:

1. Roman Polanski, The Pianist

2. Yôji Yamada, The Twilight Samurai
3. Fernando Meirelles, City of God
4. Peter Jackson, The Two Towers

5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Punch Drunk Love

Matt Mustin said...

Emi: I've actually only watched the first two, but Kirsten Dunst is my favourite overall.

Mitchell Murray said...

Emi: It's tricky, but I'll give it a shot.

1) Thornton
2) Dunst
3) McGregor
4) Wilson
5) Freeman
6) Winstead
7) Thewlis
8) Coon
9) Woodbine
10) Donovan

I'll also agree that Swango's final scene feels like a disservice to the character. Still, as the standout female cast members of their seasons, I would say the pairing of Winstead and Coon is about on par with Dunst overall.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

This is a great performance in such a lowkey and simple film. It's a shame Sanada's been mostly wasted in all of his Hollywood endeavors, the man can do much more than what he's allowed normally.

Anonymous said...

Luke, are there any animated films that Louis hasn’t seen yet that you think he might really like/love? If so, which ones?

Calvin Law said...

Out of Sanada, Lee Byung-hun, Mathieu Amalric, Vincent Cassel and (I would still argue to an extent) Antonio Banderas and Mads Mikkelsen, I don't know which of these foreign language actors get the shaft the most when it comes to their English language work (I'm missing out a LOT of others).

Louis: Hollywood roles (past and present) you think would suit Sanada?

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: Two words, Princess. Mononoke,

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Agreed with Calvin. Hopefully Chicken Run and Fantastic Mr. Fox as well.

Luke Higham said...

Howl's Moving Castle, Mary & Max and Ethel & Ernest.

Louis Morgan said...


Saving Min Tanaka for the moment.

Miyazawa - 4(Just bring an earnest luminous quality to her work. This in just this sort of glowing with warmth manner to her. This though with again that strong chemistry with Sanada built upon that sort of underlying sense of connection, though she makes the flirtation element a bit more overt. Just a sweet genuine bit of work more than anything.)

Everyone one else is fine to good in limited roles.



Very much so, despite Rock who has never impressed me in the slightest as an actor, as though I thought 3 wasn't as good as 1 or especially 2 I still liked it.


The direction by Yoji Yamada felt honestly a bit like a samurai film, if it were directed by Ozu, and that is definite praise. This in so much of the film is just allowing the little moments to play out in a quiet earnest way. This in with just modest touches on his end particularly in the really gentle use of narration, that in the finale makes quite the impact through actually the silence of the last scene. Beautifully tender work that has a manner of a remembrance with that of a pointed affection.

The screenplay is fantastic and interesting to compare it to the sort of idiosyncratic samurai stories of Kurosawa and Kobayashi. This though not of a samurai that does share similarities in just the idea of individuality, though in this case that of a samurai being individual by trying to hold onto his modesty. It is beautifully drawn in this sense as the story quietly unfolds itself. This in granting the moments of just the familial warmth, which balance nicely of the quiet pathos of Sanada as attached to his life of poverty. It makes the right approach in sort granting the right low key stakes within the film, that builds though in an old fashioned way, but subverted every step within that way.

Well to repeat myself a bit more beautifully done in its relatively simplistic choices as compared to most samurai films. This in an emphasis on a naturalistic lighting style, though I would say quietly dynamic within that particularly in the final duel. It finds a remarkable balance in never bringing attention to itself, though while finding a true notable beauty at times that just seems to naturally realize itself much the film entire.

Roles for Sanada (Although if one isn't really given the chance hard to gauge what they're capable of):

Max (Collateral, I think the immigrant cab driver could've offered an interesting dynamic)
Lead of the Descendants
Ringleader (Inside Man)

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Your ranked Top Ten films from the 1930s?

Louis Morgan said...


1. All Quiet on the Western Front
2. Gone With the Wind
3. M
4. Angels With Dirty Faces
5. Grand Illusion
6. It Happened One Night
7. Modern Times
8. Stagecoach
9. City Lights
10. 39 Steps