Seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)
HANA (Hana yori mo naho)
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (2006)
Hana Yori mo Naho is a Samurai film in which there are no flashing swords or bodies leaping over walls. Hirokazu Koreeda's (Maborosi, After Life) latest is a gentle comedy-drama that deconstructs the legend of the brave Samurai warrior and the Bushido code of seeking honor through revenge. The title of the film means flower, and Hana wants to change the symbol of the cherry blossom associated with the warrior spirit to one that represents a peaceful and nurturing life. Engendered by the earthy humor of the underclass, the film has many laughs, a wonderful soundtrack of joyous Renaissance music, and colorful characters brought to life by an excellent ensemble cast, yet it meanders and lacks a single crystallizing moment that brings its point home.
Set in Edo (modern day Tokyo), Hana takes us back to the year 1702 where Soza (Okada Junichi), a young Samurai has come to the village to fulfill his father's dying wish and seek revenge against his killer, Jubei Kanazawa (Tadanobu Asano). Illuminating the conditions of the times, Soza lives in a dilapidated building that he shares with other impoverished residents: garbage collectors, fish peddlers, and debtors hiding out from collectors. Though he wants to restore honor to his family and collect the 100 Ryo reward from his clan to help his impoverished family, Soza lacks even the basic skills of a swordsman.
This becomes painfully evident when he is roughed up by Sodekichi (Ryo Kase), a local resident who resents the Samurai. A friend, Sadoshiro (Arata Furuta) also exploits the trusting Soza, claiming many times in restaurants that he has seen Kanazawa in order to have Soza buy his food. While seeking the man who killed his father, Soza establishes himself in the community, teaching the boys and girls in the village to read and write and finding much in common with Osae (Rie Miyazawa), a married woman who, with her eight-year old son, is waiting for husband to return. A satirical subplot questioning the legend of the 47 Ronin and the warrior spirit the story represents, complicates things as a group of samurai on their own mission of revenge, hide in the town disguised as professional people.
They distrust Soza, thinking that he is a spy and assign a fellow ronin to watch his every move. When the young Samurai finally crosses paths with his father's attacker, now a family man living with a widow and her child, he questions the Samurai code of honor and the ethics of revenge. Soza, sensitively portrayed by Okada - a band singer turned actor, is a good-hearted man who recognizes the need to better his society, yet Koreeda portrays him as a weakling and a coward, a role that undermines the film's anti-violence message. While Koreeda is to be congratulated for attempting a major stylistic departure and for condemning the endless cycle of violence, Hana falls short of his best efforts.