The last thing I expected to find in a film called A Boy and His Samurai, and with an image of delicious looking custards on the cover, was a story that would embrace the fact that in these modern times, every woman should have the opportunity to be independent along with ability to join the work force. The film asks us to re-assess gender roles that have been in place in some cultures for centuries.
The film is called, in Japanese, Chonmage Purin. The title for Western markets is A Boy and His Samurai. We first meet a single divorced Mom with a five-year old son. She is called Hiroko and she’s played by Rie Tomosaka. Her son, Tomoya is played by Fuku Suzuki – and he’s got to be one of the all-time cutest kids you’ll ever see on television or in the movies. Hiroko works at an ad agency and she’s a mid-level manager. She oversees a team of computer developers and programmers. She’s resented because she’s a woman, because she arrives late and leaves early – dropping Tomoya off and picking him up at day-care as her colleagues think that this is a perk that they don’t have. Even her boss, throws an occasional verbal jab at her about this. Of course, you’ve known forever that life in the corporate world is never easy.
One day after work and shopping, Hiroko and Tomoya, while heading home, the film is set in modern-day Tokyo, they see a decidedly incongruous samurai standing in front of a supermarket. He carries his swords, his hair is in a top-knot, and he wears a samurai robe over a kimono and sandals. They dismiss it as a shopping promotion. A few days later, he’s still around, though this time his movements are furtive, and he’s taking steps to not be seen. But they meet unexpectedly, and they’re both shocked. Hiroko screams, clutching her son, and the samurai, called Yasube Kijima, brandishes his sword.
We come to discover that this Samurai is actually from the Edo Period in Japan – roughly 1820, and he’s traveled through time, more than 180 years to the present. No explanations are given – one moment he was praying to a stone Buddha in his own time and place, then the next minute he was here in Modern day Tokyo, likely the same place, but definitely not the same time.
He’s desperately hungry, he stinks, and he has no idea at all as to what happened. Hiroko takes him in and offers a few days lodging and food. Hopefully, things would get sorted out. Well, easily enough, they are able to conclude that Yasube is from another time – each of them have severe culture shock regarding the other.
Yasube is shocked that Hiroko is a single mother, that she’s divorced, and that she was the one who forced the divorce. Even more shocking to Yasube, is that Hiroko does not stay at home, that she goes out and works. In his time, this didn’t happen. Men went out to ‘earn the rice’ as he put it, and the women stayed home to raise the children and see to the household. Yasube lived in the time and place of a patriarchal society, which at that time went unquestioned and unchallenged.
Hiroko, doesn’t quite ‘get’ Yasube’s perception of her situation being a puzzle to him. In her mind, in the contemporary world she inhabits, going to work, raising a child, and taking pride in both efforts and achievements seems perfectly natural to her. It is the way things are and should be.
In return for Hiroko helping him, he decides to offer his services to her by running the household. He’s going to cook, clean, and keep the home immaculate. He’s going to learn about television, computers, microwave ovens, mobile phones, automobiles, rapid-transit systems and the like. Being a samurai, honor and obedience are his watch words. So not only does he do a good job, but he feels he is honor bound to do so. On top of that, Yasube and the boy bond.
Yasube, will begin to wear modern clothes (purchased by Hiroko), and is soon very adept at many things, but he becomes a standout at creating superb desserts including custards, cakes, and pastries of every stripe. Word spreads. When Hiroko invites a few neighbors over to sample these fine desserts, they are astounded. Everything is so wonderful and delicious. Yasube is asked to enter a Father-son Baking competition. Which he and Tomoya win. His fame is spreading. He’s offered a job at one of Tokyo’s leading patisseries.
So now as Yasube goes off to his job, Hiroko’s situation goes back to the way it was. She struggles, Tomoya struggles. One evening when this is being discussed, Yasube makes a serious miscalculation. He may be growing in stature as a modern-day cake chef, but he is still a Samurai. He suggests that Hiroko give up her job, and become a full-time mother and keeper of the household.
Hiroko is stunned. In fact, she immediately tells Yasube to get out. She orders him out immediately and he can go his own way, have his own apartment, and do whatever he likes.
From this point, the film has no place else to go except toward a reconciliation. Only there’s still that time travel scenario to consider.
Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, the film plays out wonderfully. Hiroko is all about independence, and standing on her own, after all, it was she that requested the divorce. Her independence and her willingness to go on ahead in life, without the need of a man, is not a matter of stridency. This film is not a rant or a rave about feminism nor is it a didactic treatise on the flaws of an intransigent system of predefined gender-based roles. Instead, it is about the choices she makes which are wrapped inside of a sweet exterior about a man who suddenly finds himself in a fish out of water situation.
On the other hand, the story is also about a boy, who lacks a father figure, then finds one unexpectedly. This is a film that western children will enjoy because they’re going to watch a peer, the 5-year-old Tomoya, handle his role so well.
Finally Yasube is played by Ryo Nishikido. He trained in the culinary arts as well as the martial arts for this film. His demeanor is suitably samurai-esque, yet as we watch him acclimate himself to his new surroundings, within a society and culture, that except for the language, must be quite foreign to him, you can’t help but root for him.
However, Rie Tomosaka walks away with the picture. She’s simply marvelous as a woman who is more than coping well, she’s succeeding, and yet, when there’s a clash of cultures – she’s not going to lecture us (Thanks go the Director Nakamura who wrote his own screenplay adapted from the novel by Gen Araki), nor is she going to fall apart.
The screenplay has an intelligence to it so that the film is an accessible family film that you can bring the kids to, amid some adult situations that won’t bore the kids, yet it still has enough humor to make all who see it happy.
Two weeks ago, the film played in New York at the NY Asian Film Festival, and the DVD has been recently released. There’s a link below to the trailer, which does not have subtitles, but I don’t think you’ll need them once you’ve read this review.
2 thoughts on “Chonmage Purin aka A Boy and His Samurai”
This sounds great! can hardly wait to see it. It sounds a little like that Hugh Jackman vehicle from a few years back (which I didn’t see) but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one actually wrestled with some of the real-life struggles of the single mom. In fact, I don’t think Meg Ryan was a single mom at all.
I especially like the treatment of the two main actors at the end. Very nice.
Hi Didion – thanks for the comments –
This is a good looking film. For certain – I didn’t know what it would be like – but as you’ve read in my review – I was definitely pleased.I didn’t see the Jackman film either,
In fact I couldn’t mnake it if asked to do so.