They say some movies never leave you and this is certainly the case for Korean-Japanese filmmaker Lee Sang-il, who was so inspired as a 19-year-old film student after watching Unforgiven (1992’s multi Oscar-winning masterpiece; produced, directed by and starring Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood) that he has broken the mould and for the first time in Japanese cinematic history remade this compelling story for a fresh audience.
Set at the same time as the original and transposing the classic western for Meiji restoration period Japan, it tells the tale of Jubei Kamata, notorious as a slayer of countless loyalists in the name of the Shogun. His mere name instilled terror throughout Kyoto. After the Shoguns’ defeat, Jubei fought in the bloody war of Goryokaku and, despite being relentlessly pursued by the new government, managed to vanish without a trace.
Over ten years pass and Jubei, through the devotion of his peace loving Ainu wife, is taught another way to live. Now tragically a widowed father of two he barely ekes out a living on his hamlet. So when poverty finally drives Jubei to resurrect his sword and come out of retirement, he and former comrade Kingo Baba become bounty hunters, being confronted once again by multiple shades of evil and powerful hypocrites who proclaim to represent the law and deliver justice.
Although unquestionably intricate to the narrative, the violence is brutally extensive and some scenes are very difficult to witness. The soundtrack, however, is of particular note and exquisite beauty. Informed during a Q&A with Lee Sang-il (co-writer and director) after the screening, he commented that acclaimed Japanese composer Taro Iwashiro – who had experience with epics after scoring John Woo’s Red Cliff – was ideal for “delivering the emotion.”
Yurusarezarumono (Unforgiven) is a visually sumptuous epic that effortlessly swaps shotguns for Samurai swords, with the pivotal themes from the original of loyalty, vengeance and regret plainly visible. Subtitled and already a favourite on the festival circuit, this recommendable remake clearly finds its own gripping identity, mainly due to a mesmerisingly powerful performance by globally renowned Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in the Eastwood role, alongside a compelling and impressive cast. Following in the original legendary footsteps of Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, Koichi Sato also blisters onscreen as the power-crazed heinous lawman, intent on keeping control and eradicating the redundant traditions of the Samurai.
Unforgiven is released in UK cinemas on 28th February 2014.
Watch the trailer for Unforgiven here: