The good stuff
This film was my first introduction into the work of Yôji Yamada, one of Japan's most prolific drama directors. I loved The Twilight Samurai, but never really became too enamored with Yamada's other work. I guess it has to do with an evolution in my personal taste, as revisiting this film wasn't a complete success.
Seibei is a low-ranking samurai. Others make fun of his scruffy looks and poor smell, but Seibei doesn't really mind. He doesn't have much money, but enjoys the time he spends with his two daughters and senile mother. When Tomoe, Seibei's childhood friend, returns to the village, it looks like they're destined to be together, but life has other plans for them.
The Twilight Samurai is a meandering drama. Very sweet and gentle, supported by strong performances and a fine soundtrack. There's just a little too much narrative push for my liking. The second hour is not quite as interesting, rather than focus on Seibei, Tomoe and their relationship, the film throws too many obstacles in their path, unnecessarily taking away from the pleasant mood. Still very good, just not the masterpiece I remembered it to be.
Though Yôji Yamada made a massive amount of films throughout his career as a director, I've never really gotten around to delving into his older work. My Sons looked like an interesting film to start exploring his back catalog, even though it's still decades removed from Yamada's early work.
The film was pretty much what I expected it to be. A decidedly sentimental and dramatized slice of life about two sons who move off to Tokyo to build a life of their own, leaving their father behind in a small rural town. The usual tension between young and old, urban and rural drives the narrative of this film.
Performances are solid (with a young Masatoshi Nagase as one of the standouts), the Japanese countryside is as beautiful as ever and the deliberate pacing helps to ground the drama. It reminded me a bit of Ôbayashi's 80s/90s dramas, the difference being that Ôbayashi seemed more inspired when directing his films. My Sons feels a little unremarkable by comparison, but it's certainly not a bad film.