Scars of Honor

5 out of 5

Directed by: Tanaka Tokuzo

1600s, Japan.  As the Kato clan is dissolved, two of its samurai – lifelong friends – disagree over the reasons: it is a matter of government; or it is a responsibility they all share.  That second point of view turns out to be rather telling.

Honor demands that the disagreement be resolved by duel, and the two friends, now recognizing that one of them will not live to see tomorrow, depart to take care of unresolved matters at home before remeeting to square off.  The civility shown in the patience of this arrangement is touching, as are the moments each takes at home to address their servants, their family, doing the whole honorable bit of not making a big deal out of, y’know, impending death.

The battle commences.  The survivor is left with a physical scar across the face, as well as onea’ them emotional ones: he knows his killing of his friend will one day be avenged by his friend’s brother.

Scars of Honor trails this out over its next hour, never audibly harping on the honor of its title – it is rather a quiet, contemplative movie – but making it clear through its characters’ actions how these things carry on and on.  And while all the code of silence stuff is typical manly nonsense, given the gloss of admirability by being performed by samurai, Scars of Honor has another side to its story.  It’s not an unobvious direction – notably, it may have been more surprising in 1960 – but the way it’s handled is appreciably mature and non-manipulative, building up to the mix of tragedy and the acceptance of legacy of the film’s conclusion.

The acting boils down to a cast of four, and all offer up incredibly immersive experiences.  Tanaka Tokuzo’s direction is quite beautiful, segueing between timelines and scenes gracefully, tying together the lives of its principles in a dreamlike but moving fashion.  And I loved the battle scenes, which are all grunting and falling into one another, the opposite of grace: just trying to avoid something stabby while making the other guy not avoid your stabby.

I’m not seeing much writing on Tanaka, and I stumbled across this film truly by accident (I ordered a different flick and received this one by accident).  I do hope I get the opportunity to check out some other films from the director, and discover that the sense of professionalism and thoughtfulness on display here extends to his other project…