Review: A Boy and His Samurai (Fantastic Fest)
PLOT: A single-mother and her young son find a samurai who time-traveled from the Edo Period to modern-day Japan in a grocery store parking lot. Concerned for his safety, they bring him back to their modest apartment where he helps around the house as she works at her job. He puts a samurai level of dedication into his housework, quickly becoming skilled at making desserts.
REVIEW: Fantastic Fest is a film festival that specializes in genre films with a heavy emphasis on horror, sci-fi, action and fantasy. But A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI, one of the best films at this year's festival (and eventual winner of the Audience Award for Best Film), is a simple, heartwarming family comedy from Japan.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura's last film was GOLDEN SLUMBER a taut conspiracy thriller but Nakamura leaves that all behind for a simple fish out of water tale following a samurai who has "spirited away" to modern day Japan.
Yusa, a single mother to Tomoya, and Kajima are both lost in their own ways. Kajima, literally, has no idea where he is, opening his eyes after praying to a Buddha statue and waking up in 2011. Yusa, metaphorically, as she struggles balancing both her career and her responsibilities as a mother. They need each other and after a meet-cute in a parking lot, she brings him home and offers to help him find his way home (she's not yet sure if he's legit or just a crazy man).
Toyoma, in dire need of a father figure, takes a quick shining to the strict but doting Kajima feels honor-bound to look after the boy while Yusa returns to work. She's fond of microwaving dinner for her and her son, but as Kajima becomes more comfortable with being at home, he begins to cook and bake more and more elaborate dinners and treats.
As Kajima's skills grow - some of Yusa's friends enter him into a baking contest - so do Yusa's romantic feelings for the samurai. But the film never pushes the romantic angle on the audience and lets their feelings develop naturally. And while both they, and we, are aware of a budding romance, the real emotional core of the film is the relationship between Kajima and Toyoma.
The boy frequently cries (early in the film he breaks down at the table because he missed "Pokemon" on TV) and Kajima chastises him saying that real men never cry. He takes the young boy under his wing, showing him the way of the samurai, both literally and figuratively. A scene in a park where Kajima teaches Toyoma, dressed in a mini-kimono, some elementary samurai moves, is just about enough to make you go awwww.
But the film is not just kitschy emotional sweetness. There's a real story here, more so than something like ELF. We don't spend much time with Kajima comedically finding his way around modern-day Japan and screwing things up, it's more about the characters and how the appearance of Kajima changes them and their cultural attitudes.
The film manages to be charming, adorable, sweet and funny all at the same time without ever being mawkish or cheesy. It's the kind of movie that you wish Disney would still make as it's a film that both parents and kids will love. (But don't let Disney hear you say that as I don't think I'm ready to see the A BOY AND HIS COWBOY remake...)