As I've said before, this is my first Fantastic Fest. And I'm having an amazing time, but I'm bummed that I've missed so many previous years. I'm especially upset that I've missed Yoshihiro Nakamura's previous two films that have played here, FISH STORY and GOLDEN SLUMBER. Both films garnered enthusiastic responses and then both disappeared over here in the States. There are probably ways to secure copies of those films, and I should make the effort to do so. Because after seeing A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI, one of the most charming, joyous family films I've ever seen, I need more. Nakamura comes from a completely cynical-free world, and it's a world I want to visit again and again.
Just judging from Talkbacks and general comments, there's a lot of bitterness out there. Everything is viewed through a prism of suspicion and genuine joy is not easily embraced. Now I'm likely wrong. Maybe there are way more optimists out there than is readily apparent. But some days it's diffcult to tell. We here at Ain't It Cool for the most part don't operate from that place - we are optimists and dreamers here, and that's just the way we like it. So when a film like A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI comes along and just completely validates our worldview, well, speaking for myself, all is right with the world.
Hiroko (a terrific Rie Tomosaka) is raising her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) alone. She's made the decision some time ago that she wants to work, and be useful, and that conflicted with her former husband's worldview. She's struggling to manage her time between her job and taking care of her son, and it's taking its toll. But things change when Yasube (Ryo Nishikido) almost literally drops into their lives. Although he says he's a samurai from almost 180 years ago, Hiroko thinks he's probably out of his mind. But he needs help and a place to stay, so she takes him in.
What follows isn't conventional in any sense of the term in that Yasube is the fish-out-of-water in this modern world, but he quickly adjusts to life in modern Tokyo. Because he can see that the world has changed in regards to how women are treated, he decides to take it upon himself to help Hiroko with young Tomoya and the home duties. Samurai don't do anything half-assed, and soon he's the master of the home, cleaning and especially cooking for the two. Bonds begin to form between the samurai and the boy, and between the samurai and the young mother. Sure, in writing this sounds like another romantic comedy, but I love the way Nakamura's mind works. He takes the story to a new place that I would have never considered in a samurai film, and how the film builds from that is best discovered and not read about.
But throughout the film, optimism and joy reign supreme, and there are moments of sheer happiness that one has to either cry or applaud. There are scenes in A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI that play like a truly strange version of BIG NIGHT, down to a ROCKY-esque "sporting" event that has to be seen to be believed. Throughout the film, Yasube never changes what is intrinsically him - that he wants to matter, to find a place in the world, and if he must adapt to modern life to do that, he will with no complaint. It's interesting how the film transports samurai ideals to a modern sensibility, and makes it work - Yasube is noble and kind, but he isn't afraid to flex, either. It's a great role and Nishikido is completely convincing and winning.
Also winning is child actor Fuku Suzuki, who is adorable. It's one of those genuine child performances that doesn't feel like acting. Suzuki seems to be reacting from a real place of wonder and happiness, and when he cries even the most stone-hearted cynic will feel a little pinch in his heart. It's one of those child performances that ranks with Henry Thomas in E.T. or Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE.
A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI is completely accessible and a truly great family film. I even think that if they simply dubbed the film and released it here in the States that it could see some success - audiences know enough about life in Japan and their past that it's not a struggle to follow - and I really hope that people get the opportunity to see this wonderful film. It deservedly won the Audience Award here at Fantastic Fest, and should be embraced by children of all ages. A beautiful film.