Love and Honor: Yoji Yamada goes back to the samurai well

At 76, Japanese writer-director Yoji Yamada is still best known in his homeland for a one-time Guinness Book record-holding series of four dozen films (the Tora-san series), all with virtually the same plot about a traveling salesman who is unlucky in love. That resolute consistency carries over to Love and Honor, fresh from SIFF, the third leg in Yamada's melodramatic samurai trilogy (following The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade). Here again are the familiar feudal-class themes and low-ranking samurai protagonist: Newly appointed to be a food tester for a local lord, Shinnojo (Takuya Kimura) eats an out-of-season shellfish and goes blind. Shinnojo falls into suicidal despair, until a chance to exact revenge upon the head clerk who bedded his wife leads to the trilogy's third mano-a-mano showdown. If you've seen the others, you'll know not to expect Zatoichi action in this blind-man's duel; Yamada's refined Merchant-Ivory approach to the Edo era (slow pace, genteel storytelling, restrained aesthetics) produces more yawning than fawning. At least the guy's dependable.

 
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