If you go to the art section of a bookstore in Japan, you will inevitably find heaps of DIY books of a certain style of line drawings that seems unique to Japan. The idea of this artistic style is that if you can draw circles, rectangles and triangles, then you can draw just about everything. What’s more, the things drawn in this style all seem to be imbibed with a certain spirit as though they were alive – onigiri rice balls greet you with smiles, an iPad too smiles back at you.
‘The Twilight Samurai’ (2002)
Once upon a time, I was having this “Yoji Yamada phase”. It began circa 2002 when I first saw The Twilight Samurai [たそがれ清兵衛] (2002) – which was to me an emotional hydrogen bomb. Afterwards I searched for everything I could find directed hitherto by Yamada-sensei – the long-running Tora-san series (1969-1995), Kazoku (1970), The Yellow Handkerchief (1977), My Sons (1991), A Class to Remember (1993)… I was a Big Fan.
Out of the machinery of the risk-averse Japanese entertainment industry, there is on average (only) one film that is actually worth watching. In the subsequent years that Yamada-sensei releases a new movie, you can more or less count on him occupying that spot. The Hidden Blade [隠し剣 鬼の爪] (2004) was a strong follow-up to The Twilight Samurai, and while Love and Honour [武士の一分] (2006) was an all-around weaker production, it was still arguably the best of the batch in 2006 (with Memories of Matsuko [嫌われ松子の一生] by Tetsuya Nakashima [中島哲也] coming in as a close second).