Writer/director Yoshihiro Nakamura is no stranger to cross genre perfection as evidenced by his last two films, Fish Story and Golden Slumber. The former puts the power of a pop song up against the impending end of the world, and the latter places a Beatles tune at the center of an assassination conspiracy. The two share more in common than simply a love of music as both are also absolutely brilliant tales that weave complicated stories into cinematic magic.
His latest features a far simpler story, but Nakamura still manages to mash genres into a film that delights in its love of life, family, and companionship. The joys and hardships of a single parent family, the ubiquitous TV baking-battle shows, and a samurai struggling with his own code in an alien environment all blend together seamlessly into a creation that rivals the delicious-looking pastries on screen… which is an incredible feat.
A Boy and His Samurai is an absolute pleasure to watch from beginning to end.
Yusa (Rie Tomosaka) is a single mother to a young boy named Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), and while he’s the most important part of her life she also works hard at her job. She divorced her husband when he refused to help out around the house and allow her to have a career, so now she manages both duties alone. And then they meet the confused-looking samurai.
Kajima (Ryo Nishikido) claims he’s a samurai from Japan’s Edo period a couple centuries in the past. He has no clue how he arrived in modern day Tokyo, but after an incident involving Tomoya and a bus he’s invited home to stay with mother and son for a few days. Kajima’s not shy about sharing his thoughts on women and their roles in society, but Yusa is just as outspoken. Agreeing to disagree, an odd but functional dynamic develops between the three as she’s allowed to focus on her job while the samurai retires his sword and takes on the household chores including cleaning, watching the boy, and cooking.
It’s from that cooking and baking that the film’s central conflict arises as Kajima discovers a skill and interest in baking pastries, desserts, and other sweet treats. Scenes of him perfecting cookies, custards, and meringue almost qualify as food porn in regard to the desire they’ll foment in viewers mouths and bellies. His confectionery wonders gain him entrance into a televised cake baking contest, and soon his priorities begin to shift. Can a request for Yusa to return to her womanly duties be far behind?
A typical problem with fish out of water comedies like Encino Man and The Visitors is an over reliance on supposedly humorous gags featuring the subject having trouble with modern devices or conveniences. Thankfully Kajima is a smart man, so aside from a funny and brief bit with a phone we’re not subjected to a litany of scenes about that crazy “moving picture box!”
Another common problem Nakamura avoids is the trap of needing to explain too much about the “how” behind the time travel and wasting time with characters trying to reverse it. He allows his samurai to slowly grow accustomed to the new world without feeling compelled to show every step of the learning curve.
The film finds most of its humor in the characters and performances with Suzuki in particular being a natural comedian as well as a cute as hell little kid. His expressions and bits of dialogue continuously charm. And the Pokemon scene between the boy and his samurai is comedic genius. The film is as heartfelt as it is humorous thanks to the budding relationship that doesn’t quite go where expected, a strong attachment the boy forms with the time traveling warrior, and some third act drama that may just moisten the eyes a bit.
A Boy and His Samurai is a family friendly film that will appeal to just about anyone with a heart and a desire to smile. It’s a simple story that never belittles its characters or viewers and actually has something to say about the important role people play in each others lives. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach because you will hit up a pastry shop when it’s over.
The Upside: Beautiful cross genre mix of samurai and family film; Fuku Suzuki is adorable, Rie Tomosaka is beautiful, and they both give wonderfully heartwarming performances; script is smart and funny
The Downside: No pastries were handed out at the screening