Hollywood has a history of remaking Japanese films. “Seven Samurai” became “The Magnificent Seven”, “Yojimbo became” “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Warrior and the Sorcerers”, and “Rashomon” became “The Outrage”. What all these Japanese films have in common besides being helm by Akira Kurosawa. All contained samurai as a major character. I wanted to list specifically samurai films because Japan love Western as much as Hollywood loves (remaking) samurai films. So it is no surprise that Japan would remake Clint Eastwood masterpiece “Unforgiven”. Calling the original “Unforgiven” the “Seven Samurai” of the Western genre is no exaggeration by any means. However, the remake, “Yurusarezaru mono” (Unforgiven in English) is not of the same caliber. While it’s not quite as insulting as Hollywood take on “47 Ronin”. This remake is by definition lazy. Retreading familiar material without much effort to deviate for its own identity and missing all source of passion. Kinda ironic when you think about it since Warner Bros. who are responsible for the original are responsible for the remake.
Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven in English) is about Jubei Kamata, a fearsome former samurai of the Tokugawa Shogunate taking one last job. Plot point by plot point this retelling is superficial. Just because the setting is changed and characters named change does not qualify as a proper remake. Scenes for scenes copy dialogue from the original sticking too closely to them. Making it tedious to sit through for anyone who seen the original. Ironically the worst scenes of the film are it rare attempts to deviate from the original. In the opening we see Jubei Kamata fighting for his life against some military soldiers. Immediately this remove the mysterious aura around Jebei being this so call legendary killer. Because we saw Jubei kill we don’t once ever question his ability or doubt he is this legendary killer. Therefore never seeing him as this ordinary person he pretends to be when he’s introduced. Another change in the story is who convinces the protagonist to get involved for this hit. In the original it was The “Schofield Kid”; a young admirer of William Munny (the original film protagonist) and this came into play very strongly on depicting morality in the old west and the influence of legends. Here it’s Kingo Baba (Morgan Freeman character basically) convinces Jubei to get back out on the field. This too is also ruined instead of developing the relationship between these two long time friends during their journey they are downgraded to simple two dimensional characters. Than comes the climax that butchers the preceding. In the original, Munny had a reason a to return to Big Whiskey for more than just payback; in this remake it just comes off as an act of vengeance. Schofield Kid character is also diminished in this remake. Whereas most of the characters stay the same this character gets needlessly changed. Using Schofield character as attempt to bring up race discrimination, but does nothing with it. Discrimination is just brought up as this character defining feature who does discuss his struggles with it once. Once, other times discrimination is just brought up because it a thing that happened to him for small talk. Worst part about it bringing up discrimination is pointless in this. If discrimination was never brought up the film would not change in the slightest.
Does the film work if you haven’t seen the original? How can the remake fail for those who haven’t seen it if virtually everything remained intact? Simple…okay it’s actually not, but I’ll explain the best to my amature abilities. What the original did was play on expectations and doing a complete one-eighty in its board depiction on sophisticated themes. This remake falls victim to those expectations; it sets up those expectations of what is associated with Samurai films and following them with a straight face. The humor is more varied and less subtle, but is also more spontaneous and noticeable when it disappears entirely from the film. Pacing issues are apparent with some scenes rushing encounters and introductions while others overstay their welcome. This is a major problem, as the emotional link that could be potentially had with a tale of two old fools, one chasing and one running from a dream, doesn’t hit as well as it might. It adapts the story well replacing guns with swords, but is not an seamless exchange. It doesn’t bother exploring why some still prefer to carry sword despite the advantages a gun can offer. Another is the setup appears to be wanting to make commentary on a theme, but which one that is becomes clouded by what characters do. Characters motivations aren’t clear or properly set up; like why the young Auni wants to been seen as a killer aren’t made clear. Our main cast is two dimensional with supporting characters changing through the course of the film more so than the actual protagonist. In the climax, Jubei image being this frail man is removed as he able to endured multiple wounds from bullets and swords. The ending is set up in a way to create an image of Jubei as a passing legend despite trying so desperately earlier on to disprove audience from that notion. In the eyes of a newcomer is might come off as a passable film with no developed, clear ideas with miss potential for greatness.
Ken Wantanabe is our leading man and his performance is below average. He’s no Clint Eastwood vocally or physically and that’s where the problem lies. Eastwood in the original looks like someone grandfather who you would have trouble believing was this legendary outlaw, but Wantanabe just comes across as someone out shape. Wantanabe young looking appearance makes it difficult to see him as the frail old man he plays. His line delivery is always assured eliminating the unease that his character might not actually changed. Since there’s no distinction in the way Wantanabe speaks there is no subtle transformation. Imitating Eastwood performances instead of making it his own. Akira Emoto is an excellent replacement for Morgan Freeman playing virtually the same character. Charismatic and committed in his role being a good supporting actor to help remove Wantanabe never settling into the role. Another stand out is Koichi Sato glowering, witty and assured performance, given a dandyish touch by his curlicued moustache, has a finesse worthy of the role’s originator, Gene Hackman. Sadly though, our lead isn’t able to the break image of whose first played the role like the rest of the cast. Cinematography is pleasing to the eyes with rich textures that changes environment according to the protagonist mood. It’s nice hidden visual theme that sadly is undermined by the majority that retread old material.
Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) is a remake that encourages laziness. It’s a carbon copy of the original with none of the same passion or sophistication. Whatever small change the film rarely goes for backfires making characters two dimensional and simplifying such gray themes as discrimination as throwaway material. Characters motivations are lost and it’s story plays into your expectations. As a remake it’s just retreading virtually everything the original cover making it tedious for anyone who seen the original and for newcomers with unclear ideas that get lost among the mess of what could have been.