Bushi no ichibun (Love and Honor) (2006)
Director: Yôji Yamada.
Starring: Takuya Kimura (Shinnojo Mimura), Rei Dan (Kayo Mimura), Mitsugoro Bando (Toya Shimada), Takashi Sasano (Tokuhei), Kaori Momoi (Ine Hatano), Nenji Kobayashi (Sakunosuke Higuchi), Ken Ogata (Shinnojo's fencing instructor).
problems between husband and wife when the samurai poison taster is actually poisoned; about the lower samurai
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Being a poison taster of His Lordship's food was one of the castle duties of a samurai.
Shinnojo Mimura is a lower samurai who lives with his wife Kayo Mimura. A servant named Tokuhei serves the small family. Kayo notices that her husband has been sighing a lot and she wants to know why. He tells her: "I can't stand this duty I'm on now." He thinks it is nothing but empty form and complete foolishness. Kayo asks him isn't it an honor to serve His Lordship. Shinnojo calls her stupid. As a food taster he never gets to see His Lordship. He is just a 30-koku samurai. He sits with four other men in a dark room and tastes the food. He never sees the big man. He says she is a silly girl. Kayo is a little upset at the name calling, but he just laughs it off.
Shinnojo squats on his knees along with the other tasters. The Squire comes in with his staff carrying the food. Each taster gets to taste just one dish. After they taste the food, the Squire asks the samurai if they feel o.k. If everyone says the food is all right, the Squire and his staff take the food and give it to three higher samurai dressed in gray outfits. These men then take the food into His Lordship.
Shinnojo walks with Tokuhei. He pretends he is going to push a little boy into the water. Tokuhei tells his master that he should be more serious, but Shinnojo tells him to be quiet. Shinnojo tells his wife that he is thinking about resigning his position. He wants to open a kendo dojo and teach children sword fighting. He says: "I want to change the way fencing masters teach." Every child is different. He wants to teach a style suited to the character and body shape of each child. That's his dream. Tokuhei asks him if class status will be a barrier to get into his school. No, says, Shinnojo, "Caste wouldn't matter."
The food is being prepared in the royal kitchen. Mimura is present for another tasting. Squire Higuchi falls asleep during the ceremony and they have to wake him. The food is o.k.'d and then is carried out. But not long after the food has been taken away, Mimura falls down. The Squire has to rush to warn His Lordship: "The food is poisoned!" Someone shouts to get a doctor. Then everyone is told not to move. Close all gates! There will be an investigation. Tokuhei tells Kayo that the master has been poisoned. She cannot go and see her husband because the castle is closed down tight for the investigation.
The chief clerk comes to tell the castle staff that no plot has been discovered. The immediate culprit is the sashimi from this red tsubugai (some type of shellfish). It becomes very toxic if eaten out of season. The error was in selecting such a dangerous food at this time of year. The chief clerk tells them to go home. The staff is very relieved. Before the chief clerk leaves the room he asks Squire Higuchi to see him in his chambers.
Squire Higuchi prepares to commit ritual suicide. He stabs himself with the short samurai sword and draws it across his belly. He screams out in great pain. His family has to listen to his screams as they are in an adjoining room. They, obviously, are very upset.
Shinnojo is taken home on a cart still unconscious. Dr. Gensai sees him and tells Kayo that the crisis is past. If she gives him the proper medicine and care, he should wake up in a couple of days. Shinnojo's aunt comes to see him. She is a real gossip and a fast talker. She dotes over Shinnojo before she leaves. As soon as she leaves, Shinnojo says his first words: "Has she gone yet?" Kayo and Tokuhei are delighted that Shinnojo is finally awake. It doesn't take long before Shinnojo realizes he cannot see anything. Kayo notices how he stares blankly at her. When she serves him some refreshments she soon finds out that he is blind. She is very upset with him for not immediately telling her about his condition. Shinnojo has tears in his eyes as she speaks. Dr. Gensai comes again and tells Shinnojo that they will get him seeing soon. But before the doctor leaves the house, he tells Kayo that her husband will not see again: "Now only the gods can help you."
The food tasters discuss Shinnojo and his blindness. Kayo goes to the "Hundred Prayers" stone to pray. As she walks home Lord Shimada Toya stops her in the street. He says he remembers her as the prettiest girl in the castle town. He offers her his condolences and assistance if she will come to him. She thanks him and continues her walk home. At home Tokuhei tells her that the master scared him so badly that he had to tell him the truth about his blindness. Shinnojo is very perturbed with his wife. She tells him that she was going to tell him. He says that he understands, but wants to be alone. In great anger he throws and breaks his tea cup. Later he asks Tokuhei where he put his samurai sword. Tokuhei says he put it away. Shinnojo becomes furious, grabs the servant and throws him down. Kayo intervenes saying that she was the one who told Tokuhei to do it. The husband tells her to go get the sword. She refuses. Husband asks you dare disobey me. She says "yes". He tells her: "I want to die." He says he is of no use to anyone. She tries to encourage him, but he cannot be consoled. He worries that he will lose his status and become a beggar, dependent on the charity of others. Moreover, Kayo will leave him. Kayo tells him: "What a terrible thing to say." If he commits suicide, she will follow directly.
The family led by the elder brother get together to discuss what to do with Shinnojo and Kayo. Elder brother says that Shinnojo has become a man of no use to anyone. He wants to know: will someone take them in? Kayo responds: "We have no intention of troubling any of you." She says she can work weaving or sewing or as a tavern maid. This scandalizes the family as they say it would disgrace the family. Elder brother asks if anyone can think of an important person who might help the needy couple. Kayo finally says that Lord Shimada Toya, the Chief Duty Officer, offered his help. Elder brother tells her to go and speak with the man. The situation is desperate. If her husband can't work at the castle, he will lose his stipend. Then the couple will lose their house. When everyone agrees on what Kayo should do, they are immensely relieved. They are so happy that the immense burden has been taken off their shoulders. (They should be ashamed of themselves for telling Kayo to go begging to the Lord Shimada Toya, but they were only thinking about themselves. They don't even notice how upset Kayo is about the family decision and reaction. The family are only concerned about their own family status.)
Kayo tells her husband about the meeting in very vague terms. He is very upset saying that he is a pity case. When elder brother visits, the blind man apologizes and says that he is mortified to be causing his relatives so much concern. The Uncle says he talked to the Chief Superintendent. Shinnojo's stipend will be continued. The couple feels a sense of great relief.
Shinnojo has to go to the castle to thank His Lordship for the stipend continuance. He learns that His Lordship will see him. His Lordship keeps them waiting for quite a while and then just passes by and merely says: "Well done" to Shinnojo.
Back at home Shinnojo asks if Kayo is back. No, says the servant. The aunt arrives again and Shinnojo says to himself: "Oh, no!" She tells her nephew that her husband saw Kayo in Somekawacho. And she was with a gentleman, a samurai of high position. Shinnojo scold his aunt for gossiping. He says: "Kayo is not such a slattern as that!" Auntie protests that she is only helping him. He retorts: "I'm sorry, but that only goes to show how vile a person you are. . . . Leave, please!" Auntie goes off in a huff.
The next morning he barely speaks to Kayo. He more or less gives her the cold shoulder. Shinnojo sends Tokuhei to follow Kayo. She goes to the cemetery to pray and then speaks with the monk for a long time. Tokuhei says to himself that his master is only imagining bad things about this sweet woman. But then she heads to a teahouse in Somekawacho. He then sees Shimada Toya walk into the tea house. Someone tells the samurai: "In your regular room." Tokuhei heads back home. When he gets back home he is surprised to see Kayo there. This surprised reaction makes Kayo suspicious. She talks with the servant and says she knows that he followed her. And because of that, the master has to know already about her recent behavior. Tokuhei says it was all a bad dream and he will not be telling master the truth. But Kayo says she will tell her husband.
Kayo confesses, saying that she had thought of killing herself, but can't leave her husband all alone. She admits: "I've been a fool." She scolds herself saying if only she could have been strong. She tells her husband the name of the man she was with when he asks her. She adds: "I had no choice." When she went to see Shimada he said he would speak to the Senior Retainer at the castle abut her case. But he wanted something in return. (And I bet you can guess what it is.) He grabbed her and forced himself on her. She says: "I gave myself to him" when she realized she was powerless to resist. Since then she met with him two times.
Shinnojo says: "A man steals my wife for a measly 30-koku." His eyes scare Kayo who tells him that his eyes are so cold, as cold as ice. He tells her: "The Kayo I knew is dead. You are not Kayo." He then calls for Tokuhei, saying: "I have just divorced Kayo." The servant begs the master to reconsider, but Kayo tells Tokuhei: "At least he was kind enough not to cut my head off. . . . I'll go." As she leaves, Tokuhei keeps up his pleading for Kayo to remain. Shinnojo will not yield.
Shinnojo starts plotting revenge. He practices his swordsmanship with a wooden sword. He practices everyday. He then goes to a professional teacher, who practices with him. The teacher soon knows that this whole thing is about revenge and he keeps asking Shinnojo: "Are you after someone?" Shinnojo finally has to tell his teacher: "Honor forbids me from saying." His teacher says that there is only one way to win. He has to be willing to die. Shinnojo takes the advice and resigns himself to fight to the death.
Squire Yamazaki visits Shinnojo. He says that the clan is having hard financial times. They decided to cut Shinnojo's stipend to 20 bags of rice a year. But it was His Lordship who vetoed the cut. His Lordship realized his indebtedness to his food taster, keeps the stipend as it was and decides to maintain the stipend for the life of the poisoned man. Shinnojo's mind races: It wasn't Shimada who saved him? No, says the Squire. Shimada is much too self-interested to help anyone else. Shimada said nothing.
Shinnojo tells Tokuhei to go the Shimada's residence to tell him he will meet him in a duel. He gives the servant the location and adds that he must tell Shimada not to underestimate him just because he is blind. A frightened servant tells Shimada the message. Shimada begins fuming. He tells the servant to tell his master how superbly Shimada has been trained in swordsmanship. He adds that he will be there at the meeting place. Tokuhei runs out of there as fast as he can.
Tokuhei tells the master that he shouldn't duel with Shimada. But Shinnojo just talks about the man's crimes. He deceived Kayo. He lied to her. And he never told the Chief Retainer about their case. And it was rape! He stops talking about Shimada and thanks Tokuhei for all his many years of service to him. Tokuhei takes him to the meeting place and carefully describes it to his master. Shimada shows up. When Shinnojo tells him that he raped his wife, Shimada only says that Shinnojo is making a big deal out of something so small. Shinnojo says that Shimada deceived Kayo and that he is a coward. Shimada feels insulted and shouts: "Prepare to die!" Shimada is so shocked at how well Shinnojo counters his sword moves that he says that Shinnojo can see. Shinnojo just tells him again not to underestimate his abilities. Then the devious Shimada goes around to the back of the shed near where they fight. He climbs up on the roof. He throws his short sword onto the ground a short distance from Shinnojo to confuse him and then jumps down with his long sword. Shinnojo strikes the man, but does not know what damage he has done. Tokuhei, who had been in hiding, comes out to tell his master that Shimada's left arm is virtually severed. He tells Shinnojo to strike the death blow, but the master refuses. He only says: "Kayo is avenged."
Squire Yamazaki visits Shinnojo to tell him that the castle was in an uproar over the wound inflicted on Shimada. They grilled the wounded man, but he said nothing. And now Shimada is dead. He killed himself. After all, a samurai can't live with one arm cut off. And still no one knows who wounded Shimada.
One day Tokuhei asks his master if he can hire a girl to cook for him. (Tokuhei is a terrible cook.) Shinnojo tells him "yes", but he is not to bother the master with the matter.
Tokuhei shouts to his master: "Dinner's ready, sir!" Eating dinner by himself, Shinnojo talks abut his many regrets as to what happened. He regrets ever sending his servant to spy on his wife. As he eats his dinner, he realizes that the food is quite good. Then he tastes another dish and discovers that it is one of his favorites. And it tastes like it was cooked by his former wife. He asks Tokuhei to bring the cook to him. Tokuhei says it would dishonor the master to bring in a mere girl cook, but master insists. When the woman comes in he grabs her hand, frightening her. He lets the girl know that he knows who she is. It is Kayo. She says: "You knew it was me." He replies: "I wouldn't forget your cooking." She asks: "May I stay?" He answers: "I'm glad you've come home, Kayo."
Good movie. Good love story. The only problem is that you can kind of guess what is going to happen. And if the audience can easily see the problems of certain choices, you wonder why can't the people in the movie realize it. Nevertheless, although you kind of know what's going to happen, it doesn't spoil the movie. The great acting by Takuya Kimura (Shinnojo Mimura), Rei Dan (Kayo Mimura) and Takashi Sasano (Tokuhei) makes this possible. The movie shows how badly the lower rungs of the samurai were treated by showing the audience how badly one lower samurai family was treated. Our hero is pushed to the brink and swears he will have vengeance in order to have some sense of satisfaction concerning the injustices done to him and his wife.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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