Director: Ken Ochiai
Starring: Seizô Fukumoto, Chihiro Yamamoto, Masashi Goda
Running time: 103 min
The recorded memory of cinema lends itself perfectly to reflect on the passage of time. Stars rise and fall, genres soar and plummet in popularity, tried and tested techniques of filmmaking are made redundant through the advent of new technology. The ageing process is rarely more noticeable than when depicted on the big screen. The times are indeed a changin’, a concept masterfully captured in Uzamasa Limelight. Inspired by the Charlie Chaplin classic Limelight, it is director Ken Ochiai’s tip of the hat to jidaigeki, or the Japanese samurai ‘period’ drama.
Seizô Fukumoto plays Kamiyama, a lifelong extra who has spent his entire adult life playing the bad guy, dying on screen, dispatched at the sword of the hero. Not just a background player, he has turned his role into an art form, contorting his body into elaborate positions while in the throes of death, and becoming highly respected by his peers while doing so. Having earned his spot in the industry, he now has a front row seat as it is phased out by men in suits, several decades his junior. There is no place for someone like Kamiyama in this new era of CGI swords and outlandish, cartoon wigs. Their attempts to modernise the old fashioned genre for a young audience would be hilarious if they weren’t so tragic.
He is a fascinating subject. His world weary face tells a million stories, maintaining his dignity as the genre to which he has dedicated his life is dismantled around him. Rather than openly grieve the loss or attempt to fight the inevitable, Kamiyama’s story is one of quiet acceptance, the realisation that he has had his day. His only relief comes in the form of Chihiro Yamamoto’s Satsuki, a young actress looking to make her mark in Kyoto (the Hollywood of Japan) and eager to learn the craft of sword acting. The young apprentice offers the master a lifeline, both professionally and personally.
It is a simple story told in a lavish and stylish manner, and is immaculately balanced. While melancholic in tone, we’re interrupted occasionally by some genuinely funny and heartwarming moments. It is mournful of what has passed, but also cautiously optimistic that these periods won’t be forgotten entirely. Like recent offerings The Artist and Hugo, this is cinema for film lovers, tenderly honouring these celluloid heroes as we march forward into the digital age. May there always be a place for these stories.