When The Last Sword Is Drawn (2003)

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A chance encounter between an old man and a young doctor leads to them sharing reminiscences of a samurai they had both encountered earlier in life.

Very much like its contemporary The Twilight Samurai, rather than concentrating on the usual samurai movie cliches of duty and honour, When The Last Sword Is Drawn paints a much broader picture of the life of the samurai in the final days of their era. The story centres around the relationship between misunderstood rural fencing instructor Yoshimura and an arrogant glory hound Saito and how the latter slowly comes to understand and respect his comrade, a man he initially hated for his humble, parochial ways and apparently mercenary motives. As the story of Yoshimura progresses through a series of flashbacks, we learn the reasons for his alleged “treachery” in deserting his clan and why he has such an all-consuming need for cold, hard cash rather than glory and honour. These characters are far more three dimensional than the usual “code of the samurai” obsessed stereotypes that usually populate this type of film and as such make for a more engaging character dynamic. Not that there is an absence of katana-flashing blood letting, as the film is still punctuated with enough action to sate the appetite, but the added attention to dialogue and characterisation makes for a more sophisticated context than most.

When dealing with the subject of Yoshimura’s family, the script can get a little melodramatic and the finale falls victim to overt sentimentality but as whole When The Last Sword Is Drawn is a satisfying mix of swordplay and storytelling that will appeal very much to fans of The Twilight Samurai.

6.5/10

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