A simple & touching story from the director of Big Man Japan & Symbol.
An old pathetic looking samurai & his daughter have fled their clan. Only to be catch later by the Police. To be freed, the samurai has 30 days to make a young lord laugh.
Now the story looks like a statement of intent coming from Hitoshi Matsumoto, a Japanese director best known in Japan for his crazy entertainment TV show – more or less like Takeshi Kitano. It’s about being an entertainer & what it means to make people laugh! And this is just Matsumoto’s third feature-film, which should interest a wider audience than his previous works. They had good concepts, like the mockumentary about a Japanese superhero in Big Man Japan, but these films were confusing, they had too many unorganized & unfocused ideas.
Scabbard Samurai is different. The starting point is simple, the story has a clear narrative structure, plus a little bit of craziness. This mix creates an engaging drama with some tear-jerking moments. Overall, this shows that Matsumoto can successfully contain his ideas & integrate them into the story, without repeating the mess that was Symbol – too many ideas going nowhere in there. It may be a less risky move, but it proves to be more efficient at some level…
MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY OR DIE TRYING
In the lead role, the amateur comedian Nomi making his debut on-screen. Before that, he starred in Matsumoto’s TV show, always finding himself in odd, embarrassing or humiliating situations. All thanks to his weird look. So here, he plays Nomi, the Scabbard Samurai, because he has lost his sword – in a sense, his dignity too. He’s a withdrawn character, doesn’t talk much. And his daughter often tries to shake him a little bit.
Obviously, the film uses Nomi’s clownesque talents. He spends most of the film doing humiliating, incredibly stupid or dangerous jokes… As long as the idea can be fun, he’s okay to do it; putting half-oranges on his eyes, doing ridiculous dances, putting sticks in his nose. At some point, the challenge may look harsher than the seppuku. Hopefully, Matsumoto is smart enough to reveal the ‘entertaining part’ behind these jokes. When he could have easily only revealed the stupidity of the character – after all, he’s being judged by Lords, easy way to despise & mock him.
THE RIGHT BALANCE
A simple story with a basic narrative structure. Letting the audience see the 30-day challenge, and enjoy each one of the 30 jokes. The film is successfully paced, it re-injects new ideas before it gets boring with too many repetitive scenes. The structure of the film is like a ritual, which slowly evolves into something else. Bringing out new ideas to keep the story interesting.
To be more concrete; new characters involved in the challenge, the father-daughter relationship, their background story. When jokes are becoming bigger, with ideas always surprising… It’s a cyclic story structure that slowly triggers the drama. Where each time, new elements are breaking the repetition pattern. Installing another pattern, and so on… Sometimes, these elements are quite subtle, it’s little things like a smile. It’s simple efficient drama.
THE ANTI-LAST CIRCUS
With this well-written story to stay interesting & compelling, the film allows Matsumoto to tell this touching story about the beauty of entertainment. Especially when it’s done with dignity & respect – the ‘breaking though walls’ scene, such perseverance to deliver a simple sweet cake to the audience ! Nice way to praise entertainment and its effects on people – the joy. At the center of this story, there’s this clown ready to do anything to move the audience.
In Scabbard Samurai, Matsumoto doesn’t do crazy things with the camera, yet, he carefully directs this drama-comedy. Knowing exactly when & how to stimulate emotions – great editing job. He offers some funny & colored visual ideas, without losing focus of this beautiful story between a father and his daughter. Matsumoto on the road to international recognition? — 7.5/10.
AKA Saya Zamurai, さや侍