Set in the last days of the Edo period in Kyoto amongst the Shinsengumi, the guardians of the imperial capital, there is one man who shows outstanding skill as a swordsman. He is Kanichiro Yoshimura, an economic refugee from the famine in Northern Japan. His one sole pre-occupation is self preservation, to allow him to earn enough money to send home to his starving family. His fellow samurai scorn him for his dishonourable, mercenary ways. Foremost amongst his antagonists is Saito, one of the leading figures in the group. As the Kyoto government of the time disintegrates into civil war the Shinsengumi are called upon to defend their clan against the superior government troops and Kanichiro distinguishes himself time and time again in mortal combat, earning the respect of his fellow samurai and the friendship of Saito. Told in retrospective by the dual memories of Kanichiro's grandson, from tales told by his father and those of an elderly, deteriorating Saito. When The Last Sword Is Drawn is a stirring, stylish and evocative look at the last of days of a dying breed of men who held honour above all else.
A sad and touching story
- When the Last Sword Is Drawn review by Shatner's Bassoon
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The story of 'When The Last Sword Is Drawn' is told from the memories of an elderly ex-samurai named Saito. When Saito takes his ill grandson to see a doctor, he notices the doctor possesses an old photograph of a samurai who he recognises as a man named Yoshimura. He recalls how he and Yoshimura met during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as clans were forced to choose between loyalty to the Shogun, who wanted to maintain the old traditional ways of Japan, and the Emperor, who favoured modernising Japan and opening up the nation to the rest of the world. The group to which Saito belonged remained loyal to the Shogun, soon civil war broke out and famine and poverty soon followed. He recalls how he met Yoshimura who, in order to send money home to his wife and children, had left both his family and abandoned his clan in the countryside to find work as a mercenary. Initially Saito and other samurai see Yoshimura as being dishonourable, but soon learn to respect the lone samurai. Overall this is a terrific film, an impressive look at a time of great importance in Japanese history, and a great character study of conservative samurai clans coming to terms with a changing country that has in the past been ruled by ancient customs, traditional values and the might of the sword. Beautifully directed and acted, with an amazing soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi, 'When The Last Sword IS Drawn' is quite simply unmissable. If you enjoy this film be sure to check out the equally superb 'Twilight Samurai'.