Title: A Boy and His Samurai
Play time: 1h 48min
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Starring: Hitomi Sato, Shioli Kutsuna, Ryo Nishikido
The Japanese version – A Boy and his Samurai – is Wonderful
Let’s be clear about this: A Boy and His Samurai is a fish-out-of-water time travel comedy, about an early 19th-century samurai who accidentally time-travels to modern-day Tokyo and is adopted by a bewildered single mother and her adorable, lonely six year-old son. But while the American version of this story might have involved Kevin James and a lot of farting, this justly acclaimed Japanese family film is magical and totally unexpected.
Even the time-travel gags are fresh. Yes, there are a few requisite technology jokes, such as when the samurai screams at an answering machine, expecting it to talk back. But A Boy and His Samurai quickly gets past that, and posits a different approach: yes, the twenty-first century is a different and scary place, but samurai are diligent, hard-working and adaptable. So as “Uncle Yasube” (pop star Ryo Nishikido) bonds with little Tomoya and his overworked mom Hiroko, he gets really good at stuff, like laundry and baking. The film’s centerpiece, believe it or not, is a “dads’ cake-baking contest,” wherein Yasube and Tomoya face off against two formidable father-son pairs in a 10-hour bake-off. Which is somehow hilarious and suspenseful and moving.
But what’s really on the movie’s mind is gender roles: how they’re defined and how that has changed. Hiroko is single because her husband refused to facilitate her career. Yasube’s notions of a woman’s place are similar — her job is to keep house while the man earns the rice. But Yasube’s similarly antiquated notions of duty lead him to repay Hiroko’s hospitality by taking care of her son and doing the housework while she fights for a promotion. There’s a humane logic to his way of thinking that overrides his prejudices — and while the latter has survived, the former maybe hasn’t.
Emotional Connections without weeping
A Boy and His Samurai also has more conventional concerns, like the developing bond between the boy and the samurai, and it tends to them without getting maudlin or weepy. And while the last half hour starts to flail a little, the film finds a perfectly charming final grace note, with just the right touches of fantasy and sentiment. If you’ve been itching to get a kid to watch something with subtitles, here is your chance. Even Pixar can’t usually churn out films this patient, kind-hearted and clever.