Director Yoshihiro Nakamura is on a roll. The Japanese director has continually scored big at Fantastic Fest, with 2009’s Fish Story and 2010’s Golden Slumber. He is back with a film that is on a smaller scale yet is possibly more charming than his previous two films combined. A Boy And His Samurai is a quiet, frill-free story of the complications this world can create when trying to balance work and family. Predictably, the film features a young, endearing boy who gains a transported samurai as his caretaker in modern Tokyo. While many of the standard adjustments to a foreign time themes are explored, Nakamura makes sure to tell a story that we can all relate to and fall in love with. Filled with endless charm, the film is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it might lead to a goofy smile continually present on any onlookers. Hit the jump for my full review.
Hiroko Yusa is a hard-working independent mother balancing her corporate job and the complications that arise with raising her young son Tomoya. She manages to do both, though it has left her stuck in a rut at work where she is continually bringing some of her tasks home. When they stumble upon a 19th century samurai named Kijima, he graciously accepts their help. While he has trouble adjusting to the 21st century, he takes on what he feels are female tasks—domestic chores—in exchange for a place to sleep and eat. His samurai teachings of focus and task completion lead him to become quite good at household stuff, but he also takes a liking to cooking. On the side of all of this, he also takes care of the young Tomoya, teaching him some manners that his mother is just too tired to and becoming a large part of his life, which becomes mutually beneficial for everyone.
Things are going well for the trio, with Hiroko moving up in the job ladder, Tomoya having home-cooked meals and someone to play with, and Kijima slowly adjusting to the demon telephone. When he starts to find he is incredibly talented at creating pastries, his samurai focus leads him to see it through. This leads to results not immediately clear to him. Tomoya is again the burden children often become in a world without enough hours in the day. As the story progresses, and the film switches a few gears, we are treated to a cautionary tale of the struggles of modern life and how we can often become so focused on our jobs that we forget the things around us. Nakamura never bothers giving answers to some of the questions the film poses, but the self-discovery is part of the journey for the characters and the audience alike. That’s not something I have any qualms with.
Over 108 minutes, A Boy And His Samurai provides plenty of heart, humor, and life-lessons. While most of it is smooth, there are hitches here and there. There is a notable tonal shift when Kijima takes on learning about deserts, and it feels odd. Luckily that is quickly fixed as the film progresses. There also isn’t a lot of action for a film involving a samurai, with only one clever use of Kijima’s skills that is at first sad. Elements of feminism are at play, as Hiroko is the main bread winner and Kijima struggles to understand how the roles of females have expanded since his time. However, the film isn’t littered with that message and it never feels like a hidden agenda. These are just modern times told to a confused samurai, and it’s all done with as much charm as possible. Nakamura shows that no matter what he is doing, he will succeed.