Akira Emoto,

I have seen Sang-il Lee's remake of Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono - Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono Review

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono Review
Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono Review

It may be unfair, but I don't think it is possible to discuss Sang-il Lee's Yurusarezaru mono or Unforgiven without drawing comparisons or at least thinking about Clint Eastwood's original drama. I'm not going to lie to you Eastwood's The Unforgiven is a modern masterpiece and I am humbled by it's magnificence. It brings Eastwood's 30 year cinematic history as the West's most well known enigmatic gunfighter to a thrilling and poignant conclusion. The engaging tale plays both to and against western tropes as the powerful story of the conflicted William Munny rolls out building to one of the most satisfying climaxes in film.

How on earth was the Japanese remake of The Unforgiven - Yurusarezaru mono going to stack up against a cinematic milestone? Pretty well as it turns out, watching Director Sang-il Lee's Unforgiven  it was hard to believe that it ever was a Western as it fits  into the Samurai genre and Eastern landscape so well.

For ages Hollywood has been borrowing from Japanese Cinema particularly Akira Kurosawa's Samurai films, which are fairly easily transplanted to the Western genre as the sensibilities and laws of their respective cinematic universes are similar. So Kurosawa films like: Rashomon becomes The Outrage, Seven Samurai becomes The Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo becomes A Fistful of Dollars, then Last Man Standing &  later Lucky Number Slevin and it doesn't end there as many conventions, tropes and devices from Asian cinema have made their way into our mainstream filmmaking.

Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata & Kôichi Satô as Ichizo Oishi Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono
Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata & Kôichi Satô as Ichizo Oishi Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono

But this is the first time a Western film has been worthy of being remade into a Samurai film. For the first time in Japanese cinematic history, an American Academy Award is coming to life. Released worldwide in 1992, Unforgiven, starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, was hailed by critics as a cinematic masterpiece. It was nominated for nine Oscars and bought home four, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Inspired by the film, Korean-Japanese filmmaker Lee Sang-il presents Yurusarezarumono, a story set in Japan, during the same period as the original film, with globally renowned Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in the lead role.


The tale is set, as with many Samurai films, in the Meiji restoration period, a time when the Emperor of Japan rose up from a background position and was restored as the total ruler of Japan, his dominance ushered in a new era of trade but crushed the ruling Shoguns power. This period bears a remarkable resemblance to the end of the Wild West as law and progress railroaded its way over the frontier cowboy and makes for an easy transition between Western and Samurai genres. With the fall of the Shoguns so fell their law keeping forces the Samurai. They became persona non grata with many becoming Ronin wandering the lands and into myth - but their presence was still a threat to the Emperor's rule so they were outlawed and hunted. This is where Lee Sang-il's Unforgiven starts.

Lee Sang-il is aware that there is an expectation, when taking on such much loved material and performances are key. Bringing Ken Watanabe an internationally acclaimed actor on board to play Samurai Jubei Kamata is a smart move. You may recognise Watanabe from his roles in blockbusters like; Inception, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins and is soon to be seen in Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But he revered in the East for his broad and versatile performances. He makes the role his own and brings both a vulnerable and formidable presence to the screen.  Not an easy feat given that Jubei is a man constantly in turmoil with his inner demons, a man of few words that conveys much through expression and body language.

Video: Yurusarezaru Mono (Unforgiven) - Two Settlers - Official Warner Bros. UK

Pivotal to the tale of Unforgiven is the poignancy that lead Ken Watanabe has to convey, which is does mostly silently, despite this he is a lot more likeable than Eastwoods' rogue. On the surface he is a shell of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. but as we know it is a case of "still waters run deep". Watanabe's delivery is such that even up until the end, you are never quite sure in which direction he will go.

Performances across the board are outstanding but another powerful stand out is Takashi Miike regular Jun Kunimura who delivers a powerful performance as another respected Samurai who is drawn to the small town to face the changing Japan personified by Ichizo Oishi, Koichi Sato.

Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono
Ken Watanabe as Jubee kamata Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono ZOOM
The Establishing Shots of Unforgiven beautifully sets the symbolic theme of Jubei's mood - it is bleak and survival is the overriding state. We follow Jubei as the whites become yellows and greens, turning to oranges and reds as the sun sets on his dream before finally reverting back to white as he comes full circle. The man's inner state reflected in the colours of the climate and seasons.

Video: Yurusarezaru Mono (Unforgiven) - Showdown - Official Warner Bros. UK

Rather than the aloof bloodthirsty hard drinking gun man alluded to in Eastwood's film Jubei's legend as the fiercest and most dangerous of Samurai is based on a young military man and speaks of unquestioning loyalty and duty to his superiors. As with the original Jubei isn't very successful at anything other than killing and the martial arts. But a promise keeps him struggling to build a life for himself and his remaining family, that is until an old acquaintance, Kingo Baba played by Japanese legend Akira Emoto, shows up with promises of a better life for Jubei and his family.

Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata Akira Emoto Kingo Baba Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono
Ken Watanabe as Jubee Kamata, Akira Emoto as Kingo B aba & Yuya Yagira as Goro Sawada Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono ZOOM
From here on out we go on a journey across Northern Japan to meet with destiny head on. Beautifully shot with thought going into each frame as they are balanced with symbolism and meaning past the visuals. Along the way we begin to understand the men underneath their facades, the changing culture in the new Japan and how some injustices don't change.

In terms of story Unforgiven doesn't stray to far from the original, the centre of the action is a small developing town in the rural countryside where an injustice has been perpetrated and a reward for its redress is drawing considerable attention. However a major difference is that the characters are more fleshed out in terms of personality and background which puts less focus on Ken Watanabe's Jubei Kamata (playing well to his silent warrior persona) and builds a picture of Japan at the time. The characters have more depth and are possibly more sophisticated than life at the time would allow but introduces greater class, gender and racial divides adding more complexity and more realism to the period.

Video: Yurusarezaru Mono (Unforgiven) - Ride Together - Official Warner Bros. UK

This is most noticeable with the women at the centre of the story, mainly Natsume played by the unbelievably gorgeous and vulnerable Shiori Kutsuna (I dare any man not to feel the irk to defend her honour) and the stronger Shiori Kutsuna, Eiko Koike - who are given personality and depth beyond just revenge. As well as the young Ainu braggart, Goro Sawada played by Yuya Yagira eager to join Jubee and Kingo on their dark quest for his own reasons.

Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata Akira Emoto Kingo Baba Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono
Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata Akira Emoto Kingo Baba Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono ZOOM
Beautifully shot and performed Unforgiven is excellent addition the the Samurai genre that should please new audiences as well as re-thrill fans of Clint Eastwood's original masterpiece.

Unforgiven will have an early screening UK Première screening at the Pan-Asia Film Festival 26 February before UK general release on 28 February 2014

The story takes place at the dawn of the Meiji Era in 1880, set in Ezo (now Hokkaido), the northernmost island of Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate has just collapsed, and the Ainu aborigines strive to settle the land alongside the newly established government.

The main character, Jubei Kamata, is a relic of the Tokugawa Shogunate. During the Shogunate, his name alone terrorized Kyoto as he slew countless loyalists in the name of the Shogun. After the fall of the Shogunate, he fought in a series of battles, then vanished from sight following the fierce War of Goryokaku. Despite a relentless manhunt by the new government, he disappeared into thin air.

Ken Watanabe Jubee kamata Akira Emoto Kingo Baba Goro Sawada Yuya Yagira Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono
Ken Watanabe, Akira Emoto & Yuya Yagira Unforgiven Yurusarezaru mono ZOOM

More than ten years have passed. Jubei has fathered children with an Ainu woman and lives in a secluded hamlet, barely eking out a living. His wife succeeded in transforming him from a man who kills, but she dies, leaving him to a quiet life raising his children and tending her grave. However poverty leads Jubei to abandon his resolve to bury his sword. Once again, he finds himself ensnared in a life of violence. With his former comrade-in-arms, he confronts hypocrites who profess to represent justice.

Sang-il Lee
David Webb Peoples, Sang-il Lee
Ken Watanabe, Jun Kunimura, Yûya Yagirs

For more and tickets head over to:

Pan Asia Film Festival 2014