Love and Honor (Bushi no Ichibun) is the last in director Yoji Samada's great trilogy of movies about a dying class and the ordinary people caught up in the changes. These three films are not tragedies, but somber stories of rigid, unfair class structures enforced by ferocious standards of loyalty, obligation and obedience. Now, at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, Japanese society for those at the top is crumbing. The samurai are warriors who have had no wars to fight for generations; those unwilling or unable to adapt will become irrelevant. The farmers remain important because they produce food. The artisans are important because they produce products. The merchants are the bottom caste because they apparently produce nothing. Of course, they dirty their hands with commerce and, thus, produce wealth. They will come to rule Japan. More and more samurai are leaving their caste to become merchants.
For now, however, the samurai class in its increasing irrelevance is increasingly parasitic. Samurai ideals of honor and obligation are stained by opportunism, venality and self-interest. Honor remains for many, but it can be hard for those, even samurai, who must try to live their lives in an unfair world.
Shinnojo Mimura (Takuya Kimura) is a young, lower-caste samurai who earns a modest stipend as a food taster for his clan lord. He and his wife, Kayo (Rei Dan) are happy and in love. He has prospects to be an expert swordsman. He hopes to start his own school. Then he tastes some shellfish and becomes seriously ill. He survives but is blind. He may very well lose his stipend, his house and the ability to support his mother and relatives. They plead with Kayo to go to clan captain Shimada and beg for help. When Shimada suggests that he would be wiling to help her husband in exchange for her intimate favors, her world and her love for her husband are placed at great risk. Her husband's mother and family, anxious about maintaining their own status, urges upon Kayo a sacrifice of Kayo's honor. Kayo, like her husband and all the protagonists in Yamada's other two films, have limited options. When her blind husband realizes that their relationship is subtly changing, he is resolved to secure her honor and his own...a blind samurai dueling with an experienced senior officer.
Perhaps it's enough to say that this film, so filled with autumnal somberness, ends on a note of spring. I liked it a lot. Serious films do not always require a sad finish.
Yoji Yamada's trilogy, all based on stories by Shuhei Fujisawa, are The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei) (2002), The Hidden Blade (Kakushi Ken Oni no Tsume) (2004) and Love and Honor (Bushi no Ichibun) (2006). They can be watched in any order. The movie is beautifully photographed and the DVD transfer is first rate. There are no extras.