It was a bit difficult for me to follow some of the nuances of the story because the Japanese used in samurai movies is so old. But I understood enough to get what was happening with a little bit of help from Dai. Anyway, if they ever subtitle it and you get the chance to see it, it's really a great movie but it's REALLY sad in that way that you can only fully appreciate what the main character is saying at the end because of the sheer volume of tragedy that happens in the span of one day. And there is a scene early on in which a young man commits seppuku with a wooden play sword and it is SUUUUUUPER graphic. I managed to make myself keep my eyes on the screen for most of it. Dai did not fair so well. Aside from that though, it's actually not a very gory movie. It's a character-driven plot in my opinion.
So the main character, Tsugumo, is a samurai who lost his wealth and is then, after his friend dies, raises his friend's son along with his own daughter. He is a single parent. Even though he is poor, he enjoys simple life. His daughter (Miho) and young ward (Motome) grow up and fall in love with one another and marry. Soon, the daughter is pregnant and gives birth to a son. Tsugumo is overjoyed with his simple family life. However, in order to support the family, Motome has to sell his possessions including his beloved books and, unbeknownst to everyone, the swords he carries. Miho contracts tuberculosis and is ill. Then their son, not even two years old, contracts a high fever, but Motome cannot afford medicine. Tsugumo helps as much as he can by selling the parasols he makes, but it is not enough.
Motome hears about a tradition in which he can ask for a wealthy warlord's help to commit seppuku and that samurai is obliged to do so. But he plans to use this situation to extort money instead, a common ploy among poor samurai of the time. When the master of the house finds out his plot, Motome is not given money but is made an example and is forced to use his wooden sword (he has been carrying a fake since he sold his) to commit suicide. Meanwhile, back at his home, Miho is getting sicker and their son finally dies. Just after the baby dies, Motome's body is returned to the house (along with the money he wanted). Tsugumo leaves to find out what happened and Miho commits suicide. Having lost everything, Tsugumo goes to the warlord's home and also requests to commit seppuku. He is allowed in and when the ritual is about to commence, his last wish is for them to listen. He tells them all the story of what happened and admonishes them for not helping a poor desperate man. But he also feels responsibility for not selling his own sword because he was holding onto his pride as a samurai.
He then takes on the house with a wooden sword and manages to damage the house's suit of armor, which is a big taboo. He tells them that pride is useless, the way of the samurai is nothing if people are allowed (or even forced to) suffer, and he was just a simple man waiting for the next spring. He is killed in the end. The warlord repairs the suit and "the way of the samurai" still goes on, covering up the shameful things that happened because of it.
Japanese cinema is all about tragic ends. But it's a great movie about the uselessness of pride. Also, despite recent scandal, I have a major crush of Ichikawa Ebizou... he's a nice-looking man and he's a great actor. HE HAS CRAZY EYES AND I TOTALLY BELIEVE IT. Maybe he's not acting though given recent scandals which include the accusation that he drunkenly forced a man to take a shot out of an ashtray... BUT ANYWAY.
Four and a half stars out of five.