Burdened with debt after the death of his wife, penniless samurai Seibei Iguchi (Sanada) struggles to care for his two young daughters and ailing mother working as a low-ranking clerk in the clan office. Though he’s an expert in short-sword fighting, Iguchi has lost the will to take another man’s life, a sentiment that will be challenged when his superiors order him to kill a renegade warrior.
An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Yamada’s stunningly rich and emotionally powerful story of a man divided by his loyalties combines a love story with a classic tale of moral courage. “Ringu” star Sanada is brilliant as the destitute widower who rejects the company of his fellow clansmen and falls for an old childhood friend (Rie Miyazawa), whose honor he defends against her brutish husband — only to alert the shogunate to his abilities. In lieu of extended fighting sequences, Yamada substitutes gorgeous widescreen images and a heartfelt story about class humility, familial responsibility, and the contradictions of a warrior code that irrationally prescribes hara kiri.