Veteran Hollywood movie star and director Clint Eastwood says he is thrilled at the Japanese remake of his 1992 Oscar-winning revisionist western “Unforgiven.”
The Japanese version, titled “Yurusarezarumono,” is directed and written by South Korean Lee Sang-il. Inspired by Eastwood’s film, writer/director Lee Sang-il (the Japan Academy Prize-winning film “Villain,” “Hula Girls”) shifts the setting to Hokkaido. The film stars Ken Watanabe as Jubei Kamata, reinterpreting the role played by Eastwood in the original, with Akira Emoto (“Villain,” “Dr Akagi”) taking on the part played by Morgan Freeman, and Koichi Sato (“Crest of Betrayal,” “What the Snow Brings”) reprising Gene Hackman’s role as the authoritarian lawman.
The story is set around 1880, the start of the Meiji period following the collapse of the Edo shogunate, at a time when the Japanese government is attempting to open the land (then named Ezo) populated by the indigenous Ainu people.
In the shogunate’s waning days, Jubei Kamata (Watanabe), a former swordsman of the shogunate, slaughters countless rebels under orders, earning a fearsome reputation in Kyoto. Following the government’s collapse, he takes part in a succession of bloody battles culminating in the decisive battle at Goryokaku, then vanishes without a trace, eluding the determined efforts of the new government to capture him.
More than a decade later, Kamata lives in desolate isolation as a frugal rancher with an Ainu woman as his wife and their children. His wife — who alone transformed a man whose only reason for existence was to kill — dies, leaving him to guard over her grave with their children in sparse austerity.
However, the man who vowed never to take sword again finds himself driven by poverty to once again join battle as a bounty hunter. Together with a former comrade, he faces those convinced in their own justice. Another cycle of violence starts anew in another new era.
At a news conference in Tokyo, Watanabe read out a message from Eastwood, with whom he worked in “Letters From Iwo Jima.”
““Very impressive. I am beyond contented. I feel the beginning of a new era for Japanese cinema,” Eastwood said in the message.
Watanabe said: “Clint has a big heart, allowing us to remake his film without hesitation. Not only did he allow us to do so, but he also embraced the project.”
Recalling his thoughts when he started the project, Sang-il said, “It has been 20 years since the release of ‘Unforgiven.’ People wander between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ no matter who you are — this is the theme, which lies within this film and it speaks deeply to us even today, still unable to end the vicious cycle of violence. It is my belief to create films that people can relate to — people who carry doubts and redemption, striving to be right, rather than people who insist they are right without any doubts.”
The film opens in Japan on Sept 13. There are no plans yet for a U.S. release. The trailer is below.