Unforgiven

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The modern Western was fathered in part by the Japanese samurai genre, with its lone heroes, oppressed villagers and brutal codes of honour. So it’s appropriate that the West should give a little back. This remake of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning epic may lack the austere, classical weight of the original, but it makes up for it in visual splendour, spectacular bloodletting, emotional heft and an enlightening take on Japanese history and racial politics. It’s 1880, a decade after the close of the Shogun era, and many samurai – including Ken Watanabe’s notorious killer Jubei – have gone into hiding in the remote north. When a group of small-town prostitutes offer 1,000 yen for the lives of two outlaw brothers who sliced up one of their own, Jubei and his old partner Kingo (Akira Emoto) ride for the reward. But the plot is just a framework on which director Lee Sang-il and his scriptwriters hang many fascinating ideas: about the country’s treatment of its indigenous Ainu people, about the shift from feudalism to ‘freedom’, and of course – as with any great western – about the rules and ramifications of violence. Unexpectedly brilliant.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday February 28 2014
Duration: 135 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Sang-il Lee
Screenwriter: Sang-il Lee
Cast: Ken Watanabe
Jun Kunimura
Yuya Yagira
Shiori Kutsuna
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