With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, September 24, 2020


Well Go USA
Samurai Marathon / Samurai marason
Directed by Bernard Rose
Japan/UK, 2019, 103 minutes

Samurai Marathon, an unusual samurai jidaigeki film, recently became available as Digital On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA. My review is based on watching the Blu-ray version.

The film is set in the 1850s. when the arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry (played here by Danny Huston) and his infamous "black ships" brought about the end of roughly 260 years of Japan's relative isolation from the rest of the world. Itakura Katsuakira, lord of the Annaka Domain, foresees problems for the the feudal system of Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate and the samurai. Fearing that the long period of peace has made the samurai soft and vulnerable, he decides to test the mettle of all of his samurai and foot shoulders with a thirty-six mile footrace on steep hills and rough terrain, the winner to be granted a wish.

Unfortunately, a shogunate spy in Itakura's fiefdom, misinterprets his call for his men to assemble the next day -- when he plans to announce the race -- as a signal for rebellion and reports this to the shogunate, who of course send assassins. When the spy learns of his mistake, he tries to stop his messenger but is too late.

The tale is further complicated by Princess Yuki (Komatsu Nana), the 5th daughter of Kiakura. She is more open-minded then her father and is interested in the ships that have come to her land. She adopts male garb and the name Kumanosuke, and enters the race, hoping to sneak out of her father's fiefdom and get a look at the ships firsthand.
Also thrown into the mix is Tsujimura, a would-be suitor of Yuki, who will stop at nothing to win the race and use the wish his lord would then grant him to marry her. Then too, there is the elderly Mataemon Kurita, who's been forced to retire and who teaches the boy Isuke Fukumoto how to run.

There's amply skullduggery and traitorous action to keep things interesting during the film's running time. 
In addition to the fine cast, director Bernard Rose (known best perhaps for 1992s Candyman) deserves significant credit. He managed to produce a very Japanese feeling film, unlike, say, Edward Zick in his Tom Cruise starring vehicle The Last Samurai (2003), which has Hollywood written all over it. Rose's efforts perhaps were assisted by the multitude of Japanese producers, co-producers, executive producers, and associate producers, twenty-six in all according to IMDb!

Credit also must be shared with Ishizaka Takuro for cinematography, Kamitsuna Mako for film editing, and Philip Glass for yet another wonderful film score.

The film is based on a historical event. The Annaka clan's first race was in 1855. Twelve years later the era of the samaurai ended with the Meiji Restoration.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
  -- Japanese DTS-HDMA 5.1
  -- Japanese Stereo
-- Subtitles
  -- English
  -- Off
-- Trailer
-- Previews
  -- Cut Throat City
  -- Ip Man 4: The Finale
  -- First Love
Before getting to my rating of the film, I must mention these three facts about Samurai Marathon and the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF):
- The film had its North American Premiere as the Festival's Opening Film on June 28, 2019 
- An image from the film was used on the cover of the Festival brochure
- Komatsu Nana, who portrayed Princess Yuki, received the Festival's Screen International Rising Star award for an actress. (Ryu Jun-yeol, seen in the film Money, received this award for male actor.)
AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended; well-worth owning.

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