From the official press release: Inspired by a real-life race that is still held annually in Japan, Samurai Marathon is an epic sword slasher from the team behind 13 Assassins and The Last Emperor. In the late feudal era of Japan, a young ninja (Satoh) is operating undercover in the court of an aging Lord during a peaceful era of Japan that is on the brink of change. After the Lord challenges his lazy samurais to a punishing marathon to toughen them up, the ninja finds his loyalties put to the test. Facing impossible odds, this unusual band of characters is running a race to win or die.
Starring Takeru Satoh, Nana Komatsu, Shôta Sometani (First Love) and Danny Huston (The Aviator), Samurai Marathon is thrilling adventure with original music from legendary composer Philip Glass (A Brief History of Time, The Hours).
A couple of weeks ago, Film Lincoln Center released the video of the Q&A session. Director Bernard Rose has a pretty good sense of humour and both he and his lead actress tell a few interesting things about filming and directing in Japan.
Samurai Marathon 1855 is definitely a bold take on the genre with unexpected yet thoroughly enjoyable elements of comedy. There is action too, especially when Jinnai (Takeru Satoh), Heikuro (Mirai Moriyama) and Princess Yuki Hime (Nana Komatsu) get tough on the baddies.
The film is also a must watch for the journey you get through the beautiful landscapes of the Yamagata Prefecture: kudos to Takuro Ishizaka, director of photography whose work is matched by a haunting score written by Philip Glass. For Nana Komatsu fans, it is a ‘must-not-miss’. As Princess Yuki Hime, one of the modernistic elements of the movie, she looks proud, brave and beautiful.
Here is a special post with screencaps and short clips from the film and the making of documentary. The bonus disc* is a real treat: Amazon Japan – CD Japan. *only available in the collector’s editions.
Bernard Rose‘s movie DVD was released in Japan on Wednesday 24 July. It is available as a standard edition or deluxe edition either on DVD or Blu-ray: Amazon Japan – CD Japan. Below you’ll find selected excerpts from film reviews -with links to the original articles- illustrated with selected screen caps of Nana Komatsu as Yuki Hime.
“Our opener was a big hit, and one of our biggest opening films since Bad Genius[in 2017]. This is quite possibly the best “chambara” / samurai film I’ve seen since Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins; it’s a bit of a paradox that an Englishman directed it, but maybe a sign that cinema can truly be without borders sometimes.” Samuel Jamier, director of the New York Asian Film Festival (source)
Eastern Kicks: “Samurai Marathon is a wonderful narrative about a less known historical fact – the first Japanese marathon. While this historical event had no true effect in the unfolding of history, Samurai Marathon succeeds, by intermingling various narrative threads into an effective narrative structure and allowing dramatic musical pieces support its unfolding, in turning this event into an exciting jidaigeki narrative. Rose might have created a somewhat atypically packaged jidaigeki, but it provides everything one should expect of a contemporary mainstream example of the genre.”
“The ensemble cast is successful in supporting the framing of the historical context. Hiroki Hasegawa’s performance brings his inner-conflict believably to the fore. Naoto Takenaka, for that matter, infuses all his grandfather charm in his role as retired samurai guard. And Nana Komatsu underlines, especially through her fighting sequences, her versatility as an actress.“
Asian Movie Pulse: “Apart from the performances of his cast, most importantly Nana Komatsu and Takeruh Sato, one of the great positives of the film is the visualization of the marathon itself. Using parallel montages of the approaching assassins, Rose and cinematographer Takuro Ishikaza highlight the dynamics and dramatic value of the situation without relying on steadicams. Instead ‘Samurai Marathon’ shows the beauty of the Japanese landscape (…) Additionally, the score conducted by Philip Glass underlines the sense of urgency of these scenes, while also emphasizing the idea of a country at the brink of change.”
“In the end, Samurai Marathon is an enjoyable period piece uniting various storylines into one tale about betrayal and loyalty. With a great cast and an eye for the wonderful landscape of Japan, this is a very interesting drama about a time of change in Japan, a much needed one on the one hand, but also aware of a certain loss on the other hand.“
VCinema: “The pacing becomes steadier by the time the marathon is launched but the film still proceeds at a good pace and plot twists are frequent as are action and even comedic scenes as cheating and betrayals emerge. Neat editing cutting between different characters keeps everything coherent as the course of the marathon runs through fields and along mountain paths.“
“Everyone gets a go at a fight and there are many highlights, from combat on horseback to Nana Komatsu’s Princess Yuki proving to be a rose with many thorns as she scraps with men. Rurouni Kenshin lead actor Takeru Satoh gets a really well-shot duel rich with thrusts, blocks, slides, and stabs that will have audiences on the edges of their seats (…) All liberties taken with the story are in service of making the film a lot of fun as this is a definite crowd-pleaser.“
ScreenDaily: Behind the camera talent is top tier. It’s a handsome picture (lensed by Takuro Ishizaka, who shot John Woo’s Manhunt) with lush, saturated greens and golds contrasting strikingly with the copiously spilled blood. The costumes are designed by Emi Wada, who won an Oscar for Kurosawa’s Ran. And the violent beauty of the visuals is complimented by a hauntingly lovely score by Philip Glass.
Cineuropa: The gorgeous cinematography by Director of photography Takuro Ishizaka (Manhunt, God of War) is a real feast for the eyes. The appealing shots of fields full of flowers and the woods create an unnerving symbiosis with the violent moments, enhanced by the beautiful scenery. The indoor scenes excel with the masterful use of lighting, especially in the nocturnal sequences where the warmth of the light creates an alluring, luminous atmosphere.
HeyUGuys: “When the swords are finally unsheathed, the action isn’t elaborately balletic or gratuitously grotesque, but strikes a perfect balance between being frenzied and easy to follow (…) Although far from sensational or instantly iconic, Samurai Marathon certainly has legs — and its basis in something approaching a true story (the ‘samurai marathon’ is run to this day, often in fancy dress) lends it extra novelty value.”
Nana Komatsu and director Bernard Rose attended the US Premiere of Samurai Marathon at the New York Asian Film Festival on Friday, June 28. It was a memorable evening for the young actress as she received a Rising Asia Star Award. Rockin on has published a short but interesting report with highlights from the Q&A session as well as interviews. Original Post (Japanese) – Pics by Brent N.Clarke.
Selection of translated excerpts
“New York is such an amazing city with power and liveliness (…) here I felt like when I started acting, my heart was beating fast ” (Nana Komatsu, speech)
“What was your favorite scene in Samurai Marathon?” ‘A scene I liked was when my father burned a picture at the beginning of the movie. Originally it was a scene with speech, but I thought of expressing emotion without words, I tried to suggest this to the director’ (Nana Komatsu, Q&A)
“What’s the best thing to do so that Japanese actors appear in more American films?” ‘American films should right way appoint Nana a lot more. Then they should take Godzilla’. (Bernard Rose, Q&A)
“Princess Yuki Hime is sort of confined (…) but she is interested in the West and has a broad view of the world. She is a strong woman who wants to experience things without being bound by stereotypes (…) I thought it would be fine if I could impersonate such a woman so that everyone in the world could see and then have some cool after thought about her”. About the modernistic element in the movie and the empathy from the audience (Nana Komatsu, interview)
“Are there any overlaps with yourself?” ‘Yuki Hime and I are similar as far as curiosity is concerned, I’m very curious and want to try anything (…) it’s all about challenge, dressing as a man, getting into a group of men, I think that makes her a rather active woman for that era…’ (Nana Komatsu, interview)
“It’s a trite question but what about Scorsese and this time’s experience” ‘The way of shooting is completely different (…) Mr Scorsese isn’t the type of director who comes to the shooting scene, he comes when he needs it and will say ‘right, it’s good now, let’s have one more take’ and then you can have up to 30 takes and you don’t know which one will be used (…) Bernard Rose tends to favour live play (…) situations that seem chaotic serve as a strategy to give the cast a sense of unity’. (Nana Komatsu, interview)
From Eiga.com yesterday, a series of photographs by Brent N.Clarke and a report on Nana Komatsu -with bits of interview- at the US Premiere of Samurai Marathon in New York last Friday (June 28). The movie was the opening film of the 2019 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival. That night, the young actress received the Rising Asia Star Award.
The article provides a summary of her career, reminds readers she had already worked with a non-Japanese director (Scorsese for Silence in 2016) and quotes her when she received her trophee: I am really honored and feel very happy. I’ve come to New York for the first time, but as an actor, as a person, I’m very thankful to be praised this way by people from another country. The actress humbly added that to be worthy of this award, she would like to continue and become an actress who could grow up greatly.
Asked a few questions by Nobuhiro Hosoki from Eiga.com, she said working with Bernard Rose was a fresh and valuable experience. He is not much into rehearsals and relies a lot on improvisation from his cast. Though she reckoned it could bring a certain level of tension, she found it was very rewarding for the actors.
Regarding this she mentioned that she had properly prepared and rehearsed a fighting scene with two other actors. Though she thought the resulting sequence was fine, Bernard Rose came and said it did not look realistic at all because fighting with swords wasn’t like choreographed work. He subsequently cut that scene. She was first very disappointed but then it helped her adapt to the director’s leaning towards a less preset way of working.