on 24 October 2015
As a fan of Kurosawa, and in particular Seven Samurai, I was fascinated by how a Japanese (Korean?) director would interpret the great American original. Although I could follow the story mainly in reference to the scenes and characters in Clint Eastwood's version, the Lee Sang-il version was completely embedded in Hokkaido as a rough and tough frontier territory set at the same time as Eastwood's original.
The parallels between the two cultures - Japan's North and America's West in the 1880s - is uncanny. All the major characters in the originals have their Hokkaido equivalent, with very similar personalities, but still very Japanese.
Lee Sang-il explores these parallels further by bring in the relationship with the natives (Ainu in Japan) into the story. It makes you ask what could have been Eastwood's interpretation of the relationships between settlers and natives in the 1880's American West.
Watanabe is of course magnificent in the Clint Eastwood role. However, my favourite character is Goro Sawada, played by Yûya Yagira, who is the young braggart of the trio who work together to kill. Far more than the Schofield Kid, this character matures and understands the real meaning of killing through the film. Have a look at the "Making of" to see the film through his eyes.
(Spoiler) Lee Sang-il was strong enough to give his version a different ending. But this ending is one area which highlights where there was a difference between the Japanese and American cultures. As a previous reviewer commented, in America, a killer could become a farmer. In Japan, this just wasn't possible. Samurai did not become farmers.