A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI
Japanese, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura
It is only through my best effort at some semblance of dignity and professionalism that I have managed to refrain from opening this review of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s latest treasure, A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI, with the word “squee.” In all caps, with gratuitous exclamation points. Having been immensely charmed and impressed with Nakamura’s previous films, FISH STORY and GOLDEN SLUMBER, I have to admit, I had high expectations for his latest work. I am happy to report that A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI does not disappoint. I walked out of the theater grinning ear-to-ear, feeling warm and fuzzy, like I’d just received a great big celluloid hug.
In a radical departure from his previous work, Nakamura tries his hand at a family film, but with his characteristic whimsical twist. A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI is about a divorcee named Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka), her young son, Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), and Kijima Yasube (Ryo Nishikido), the samurai who follows them home from the supermarket. Hailing from the Edo period, Yasube has been propelled 180 years through time to modern day Tokyo, after praying to Buddha to help him find his purpose in life. Confused and out of his element, Yasube is grateful for Hiroko’s help, and soon takes on the busy single mom’s domestic duties in exchange for room and board.
Not surprisingly, the trio begins to bond as they learn from one another. Yasube’s noble air and his dedication to honor, duty, and discipline are a positive influence in Tomoya’s and Hiroko’s lives, while caring for Tomoya seems to bring a deeper meaning to his. Also, Hiroko helps Yasube adjust to modern life and imparts on him a broader and more flexible perspective on gender roles. Yasube also uses his domestic position as an opportunity to learn new skills and soon finds that he has an extraordinary talent for creating heavenly desserts. Oh the glorious desserts! You will want to have a snack on hand for this film, because Nakamura serves up some pretty serious food porn, complete with a holiday party scene that’s practically a full-on sugar-fueled orgy.
Though at it’s root a fish-out-of-water story, A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI is so much more than just a series of jokes about a noble warrior baffled by the answering machine. This is a story about forming connections, finding oneself and one’s purpose, and finding a way to pursue that purpose and make a contribution to wherever (or whenever) you happen to be. Nakamura delivers s story full of heart and brimming with joy without being cloying or inaccessible. Strong performances by all the actors, including the young Mr. Suzuki (who is, by the way, completely adorable), help to make the characters feel real and relatable, which is certainly important when trying to tell a family drama with such a fantastical edge. Once again, Nakamura proves that he is adept at handling fantasy elements in a real-life setting.
Nakamura has warmed my heart and convinced me that everyone should be so lucky as to find their own samurai. This is to seek out and share with the whole family, preferably over dessert.