The life of a samurai isn’t all glory and battle; sometimes it’s… being a poison taster?
What They Say
Shinnojo Mimura is a samurai sharing a hand-to-mouth existence with his beautiful wife, Kayo. Frustrated by his lowly status within the castle ranks, Shinnojo dreams of better days instructing children in the way of the sword. But destiny, it would seem, has other plans...
A freak accident takes the warrior's sight, leaving Shinnojo cursed. Losing his status and pride, his hopes and dreams, and even himself to this life of eternal darkness, only one path lies open for Shinnojo: that of the true and noble samurai.
Though a lot of companies don’t dub live action movies, FUNimation continues to do so and we get another bilingual release here. The original Japanese language track is a solid 5.1 mix encoded at 448kbps, but it’s not something that really requires it. This is a generally quiet and reflective movie with plenty of straightforward dialogue and little use of the surround channels overall. The English mix is a stereo one done at 192kbps and comes across cleanly enough, but we didn’t spend much time on it because of our distaste for live action dubs. Both tracks are well produced overall, but the Japanese mix feels like overkill, but a welcome overkill. If only they’d do more 5.1 mixes for their action films.
Originally in theaters in 2006, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With a very earthy nature to the film from the period in which its set, the transfer here is really quite beautiful. The depth is very well done and the bitrate is kept relatively high throughout which certainly helps. There are a lot of still scenes throughout this with small motions and there’s nary a real problem to be found here. Some of the darker scenes come off very well with how the black levels are handled and with no sign of edge enhancement to it, it’s a very appealing if earthy looking film.
Love and honor has one of those stylish covers to it where it plays up the beauty and deadly nature of the Samurai. The central image is that of a pair of birds sitting on the edge of a sword handle of Shinnojo who is barely visible here. With the sunset hue given to it, it’s really quite appealing in that sort of still way. The bottom features a strip of shots of the main characters from the feature and just above them is a small logo. In Japanese only. In fact, neither the spine nor the front cover list the actual name in English anywhere. It’s on the back and on the label that seals the keepcase. This is really unusual and I’m not sure it’s quite the best thing either to try and draw someone in to check out a release. The back cover is straightforward with a nice shot of a reflective Shinnojo holding his sword while the middle is made up of a summary of the premise of the feature. A few shots from the film are below that in a strip which is then rounded out by the production information and the technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for Love and Honor is simple and effective as it has a faux letterbox feel to it with white parchment like borders along the top and bottom. In the center, the left side is made up of the shot of Shinnojo from the back cover while the right side contains the small text navigation. The submenus are simple and there’s little to the disc here beyond the feature itself and a series of coming attractions for other shows. The disc is surprisingly set up to default to English language for its audio, which is even more of a surprise considering they don’t even provide an English logo on the front cover or spine. Navigation is simple and effective and we had no problems in moving about for setup or during the feature.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally called Bushi no Ichibun when released in Japan, this feature directed by Yoji Yamada is the latest to arrive from FUNimation films. The film was generally well received in Japan as it garnered thirteen Japanese Academy Award nominations when it came out in 2006. Yoji Yamada is something of a famous director there for his past works and he was involved in writing this as well as directing it. After FUNimation kicked off their feature film line with Shinobi, they’ve gone in different directions with features such as Hana and the Genghis Khan: To The Ends of the Earth and Sea. Love and Honor leans far more towards the Hana side where it’s something of a prestige oriented title rather than something with any serious action to it.
With a two hour runtime, Love and Honor is a very laid back piece but not one without its tense moments. The story revolves around a samurai named Shinnojo Mimura who serves well in his Lord’s castle. His life there isn’t what he expected though and he’s become a poison taster for his Lord. This life isn’t exactly bad, but it doesn’t lend itself to the ideals of a samurai nor with what Shinnojo had thought his life would be like. There’s an element of risk and danger to it, but at the same time it’s not how he’d want to die. He has a good life otherwise with a very beautiful wife named Kayo along with a family servant from his deceased father named Tokuhei. The trio are a fairly standard family of sorts where no children have yet entered the picture.
Shinnojo is contemplating changing his life by resigning his post within the castle and instead going to teach children the way of the sword. Not exactly in the way he was taught, where it was strictly for samurai, but for any child who wishes to learn regardless of status. This isn’t an entirely new idea but it’s one that hasn’t become quite common yet. The change would mean something significant to his wife however since their lifestyle wouldn’t be quite as good as it is now and they’d have to make some sacrifices along the way as he’d be earning less than he does now in services to his Lord. Dutiful wife that she is, and loving wife that she is, she agrees easily and supports him completely in his decision should he actually decide to make it.
Of course, nothing goes as planned as Shinnojo ends up poisoned during one of his tasting sessions for his Lord. It’s actually not an intentional poisoning but rather a simple miscalculation on a particular item of food that’s out of season. Shinnojo is able to recover after being out a few days, but the shellfish incident has cost him his sight. He can sense either light or dark but nothing beyond that. The realization is devastating as he knows he cannot serve in the castle any longer nor can his other plan go into motion. At best, his life as a beggar is all that he can look forward to as he’ll be stripped of his rank and status as a samurai since he cannot fulfill those duties any longer.
It’s from here that the feature takes its interesting turns as Shinnojo must grapple with how his life is now, particularly as they wait to see how the Lord of the castle will treat him. While his job is obviously no longer viable, will they give him any kind of stipend for the service has provided considering he saved his life to some extent? It also takes a curious turn when another ranking official, the Chief Duty Officer, makes a less than subtle move on Kayo in order to help provide some support for the family so they don’t lose their home. Shinnojo’s issues with his life cause him to start distrusting others and he begins to spiral emotionally – all while being cold and distant – as he contemplates what he must do. And what kind of vengeance must be meted out if the truths he’s discovered really are the truths.
While this two hour feature is fairly slow at times, it is quite a captivating piece overall. Takuya Kimure as Shinnojo really comes across well here as he grapples with so much on his face while still trying to keep to his emotionless samurai side. When he has his light moments, such as playing with children or the closeness with Kayo, the humanity shines through beautifully. But when he turns serious, either with his sensei or in a fight towards the finale, he’s intense and powerful. This is all very well balanced by Rei Dan as his wife Kayo who brings a really solid performance here. She comes across as truly caring and concerned for her husband, wanting to help him but not sure of the best way to do so considering his rank and status. She has a certain beauty to her, but not the kind that has her seeming overwhelmingly beautiful but rather that quiet and confident beauty that comes from a life well lived. The bond between these two is wonderfully portrayed by these two actors and they are what really sells the movie overall.
Love and Honor is an interesting choice for FUNimation to bring over as it’s the kind of feature that tries to give their small but growing library a little gravitas. They’ve got their action side (even if I don’t agree with putting Vexille in there) but they’re also working on the character dramas. Love and Honor is a solid entry, though likely mostly forgettable by most in the long run, and a worthy film to bring over to see what works and to explore this side of the cinema. My only hope is that they’ll start exploring some of the more modern features in terms of settings and something with a bit more humor perhaps. I’m not advocating a Switchblade Pictures approach by any stretch of the imagination, but they need to explore a bit more of what Viz Pictures has been doing with their live action line-up now.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.