Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono) (Lee Sang-il, 2013): Japan

Reviewed by Daniel Chein. Viewed at SBIFF.


“You have to exterminate rats when they’re small, before they turn into bears.”

Throughout the festival, I found myself asking if I had become the film-snob that I had always despised. There are some films that aren’t unique or intellectual that I just want to watch for the sake of watching: for the next 90 minutes, I’m going to kick back, let my disbelief suspend above me, and get lost in the movie. And I think its important to drop the whole “I’m a critic, I’m going to pick this film apart and analyze all the pieces” shtick from time to time so I can remember why they fell in love with movies in the first place: because they are entertaining! The best part about taking the Film Festival Studies course, for me, is that I get to both acquire a critical eye and enjoy movies I wouldn’t otherwise get to see in a theater. Based on Clint Eastwood‘s 1992 classic, the 2013 remake in samurai western style was one of those films I had to put my pen and paper away for.

Amidst a snowy landscape in late 19th century Japan, the age of the samurai is coming to an end as guns, government, and western influence begin to reshape the country and culture. Jubee Kamata (Ken Wantanabe), an infamous ex-samurai, has survived the man-hunt led by the new government to slay all rebel opposition in its path. As targets, Jubee and others are forced to flee to the northernmost island of Hokkaido where they live in exile. There, Jubee marries an indigenous woman of the Ainu tribe, has two children, and finds some sort of solace in his new life as a farmer. However, his wife dies, his crops are scarce, and he is struggling to support his two boys. One day, an old man named Kingo (Akira Emoto) who once served beside Jubee arrives to present a proposition. A prostitute in a town wrought with corruption has been defaced by a couple of men, whose only retribution was paid off. The prostitutes have put out a reward for anybody who will bring avenge the horrific crime, and Kingo convinces Jubee to go.

If you like jidaigeki, westerns, or Clint Eastwood,* go see this film. The cinematography is stunning. There is something so beautiful about blood in the snow. I tend to like films with plots that are set in times of drastic change: in Unforgiven, Jubee’s entire world is turned upside down when the shogunate system of feudal Japan, having been in place for hundreds of years, rapidly crumbles in the face of modernity, all within the span of a few decades. To some, this is extremely liberating, but everybody in some way or another is forced to find a new identity. For Jubee, it was farming, but there are some things that will stay with you forever. Throughout history social revolutions of this nature have been accompanied with massive bloodshed as different groups vie for power and influence under the new system. Jubee and his contemporaries are no exception, and as you’ll see, very few make it through alive.

*For Clint Eastwood fans, the man is a real life hero, he recently saved someone’s life! Read more here.


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