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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Saturday, May 5, 2007
5:45 p.m. Hana
Hirokazu Kore-eda (Japan, 2006)

(Hana yori mo naho). A samurai movie isn't what springs to mind when one thinks of director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, SFIFF 1999; Distance, SFIFF 2002) but that's exactly what he delivers in his newest work, a change of pace that, it turns out, isn't so different after all. "I've always wanted to make a samurai movie," the director noted after his Cannes-winning abandoned-children masterpiece Nobody Knows, and while Hana certainly has the characteristics of the genre—the reluctant swordsman, the vow of vengeance, the pretty widow—it still possesses all the humanism, naturalism, and quiet beauty of Kore-eda's work. Whiling away the end of the shogunate era in an Edo slum, the baby-faced samurai Soza (former J-pop star Junichi Okada) seems remarkably uninterested in seeking vengeance on the man who killed his father, instead preferring to play with the local kids, or turn beet red whenever he glances at lovely widow Osae. When the "killer" finally appears (Ichi the Killer's Tadanobu Asano), however, tradition and honor dictate that Soza must take his vengeance. He will, too, once he learns how to properly use his sword. Lighthearted and serene, this is one of the year's most pleasurable films, a modern deconstruction of heroism, a celebration of pacifism, and a tribute to Japanese cinema history. Samurai movie, village comedy, melodrama—Hana is all these things, and more. In its earthy setting and bawdy, larger-than-life characters, the film is a homage to the great Shohei Imamura (who passed away during its filming), and in its graceful humanism and assured storytelling, this is unmistakably a Hirokazu Kore-eda film.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Kore-eda. Photographed by Yutaka Yamazaki. With Junichi Okada, Rie Miyazawa, Tadanobu Asano, Arata Furuta. (127 mins)