NYAFF 2012 Screening: SCABBARD SAMURAI, A Swordless, Sincere Comedy

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Many of us here at Twitch adore funnyman-turned-filmmaker Hitoshi Matsumoto and his ever growing stable of directorial offerings. First we had the wildly inventive mockumentary Big Man Japan. Then there was the most profound film based around a fart joke ever, Symbol. And now, at last, thanks to the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Society's Japan Cuts (which you'll be hearing about more and more in days to come) we have the US premiere of Matsumoto's take on the samurai tale -- Scabbard Samurai aka Saya Zamurai.

Our correspondent Alexander Thebez with his thoughts:

The film follows the story of Kanjuro Nomi (Takaaki Nomi), a fumbling samurai and his daughter Tae (Sae Kumada). Nomi, having lost his sword and his honor, and Tae find themselves arrested by the royal guards. Nomi, with the help of his daughter, must find a way to revive the spirit of the grief-stricken young Prince.
 

I have to say that Scabbard is probably the most straightforward film I have seen all year.
A complex movie sans the overly complicated storyline, Scabbard Samurai plays out its scenes almost as linearly as a furniture assembly instruction manual. After Nomi is captured, he is given 30 days to get the Prince, who recently lost his mother, to smile again.  Starting out with small tricks and jokes, Nomi's attempts fall uncomfortably flat to hilarious effects.

The minimalism of the plot is supported by the same aesthetic that the film carries in its cinematography, editing, and art direction. Scabbard Samurai is a beautiful film, but just like the dialogue, for the most part, it is sparse. Long, wide shots with minimum cuts create an unflinching sense of tension.

The tone and aesthetic of the film are definitely welcome, if not a refreshing change from all the expected Western mainstream comedies that I have gorged on all year. It is comedy, but it is not light or easily dismissible. The second half of the movie will, most probably, stick with you for a long time.

 Scabbard Samurai is not just funny. It is moving, sincere and profoundly satisfying. Did I say perfectly acted? 

Gosh, I really do wish more comedies would do the kind of things that this movie did to me.

Scabbard Samurai is screening on Friday July 6 (3:30PM) as part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center, and then on Saturday, July 14 (1:00PM) as part of Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema at Japan Society. For more info and tickets click here.

If you aren't in New York or just want more of
Scabbard Samurai then check out Ard Vijn's review from Imagine 2012 and Guillem Rosset's take from Sitges 2011.  
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