Ken Watanabe (Inception) stars in director Lee Sang-il’s visionary remake of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Academy Award winner. Continuing a rich tradition of cross-cultural adaptations, Lee swaps six-shooters for samurai swords, transposing the classic western to Meiji-period Japan.
With his Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, director Lee Sang-il becomes the latest in a line of illustrious filmmakers to cross-pollinate the western and chambara genres. Akira Kurosawa's reverence for John Ford influenced both Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, which would in turn spawn iconic remakes that swapped swords for guns. Lee nods gratefully to Kurosawa's epics as he transposes Eastwood's multiple Academy Award-winning film from post- Civil War Wyoming to Meiji-period Hokkaido.
Jubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) is a widowed father and infamous former swordsman who spends his days tending a struggling farm. His commitment to pastoral tranquility is tested when Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto), an old comrade in arms, brings news of a bounty substantial enough to secure his children's future: the prostitutes of a neighbouring village have pledged 1,000 yen for the lives of the bandits who mutilated one of their own. Rustily and somewhat reluctantly, Jubei joins Kingo in the saddle, along with a brash young braggart named Goro (Yûya Yagira). Together, they fancy themselves more than a match for the wanted men. But they are also destined to encounter a far more formidable faction, led by a sadistic lawman (Koichi Sato) with a distaste for soldiers of fortune.
Lee wisely retains the spine of David
Webb Peoples's acclaimed screenplay, but
adds several notable flourishes of his own.
A subplot concerning Japan's indigenous
Ainu squares his update with the broader
western tradition of depicting the plight of
aboriginal peoples at the hands of so-called
civilizing forces. Lee also refashions the
film's climactic standoff to stunning effect,
conceiving a fiery new finale that is certain
to see his Unforgiven become iconic in its
Special thanks to The Japan Foundation, Toronto.