Home > Film, Martial Arts, Reviews > Film Review: Uzumasa Limelight (Uzumasa Raimuraito)

Film Review: Uzumasa Limelight (Uzumasa Raimuraito)

A homage to Charlie Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT!

Uzumasa limelightWinner of the Cheval Noir Award and Best Actor Award at the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2014 Camera Japan Festival, and the official selection at both the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival and the 2014 Shanghai International Film Festival. 

‘Uzuamas Limelight’, based on a screen play by Hiroyuki Ono and inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 film ‘Limelight’, was directed by Ken Ochia and stars Seizo Fukumoto as Kamiyama Seiichi  a veteran ‘kirare yaku’ (literally being killed by a sword actor) an actor whose role it is to die by the sword in ‘jidaigeki’ period Samurai dramas, and Chihiro Yamamoto, herself a Champion Wushu practitioner,  as Iga Satsuki, a fledgling actress who becomes Kamiyama’s disciple in a very similar vein to that of the Karate Kid.

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) being coached by Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto)

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) being coached by Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto)

Seizo Fukumoto, at 71 himself a veteran ‘kirare yaku’ having been ‘killed’ about 50,000 times during his career and probably better known to Western audiences for his silent role in the 2003 film ‘The Last Samurai’, was reported to have been initially reluctant to play the part. His signature move which is seen a number of times in the movie is the ‘ebi-zori’, or prawn bend where he arches his back after having been fatally wounded and falls to the ground.

Seizo Fukumoto alongside Tom Cruise in ‘The Last Samurai’

Seizo Fukumoto alongside Tom Cruise in ‘The Last Samurai’

The film opens with a scene from an episode of a ‘chanbara’ (sword fighting) series ‘The Saga of Edo Zakura’ which is being made in Uzumasa, a western suburb of Kyōto known as the Hollywood of Japan. Having been running for 40 years the studio unexpectedly announces its immediate discontinuation leaving the veteran samurai actors at a loss. It is to be replaced by a new production ‘Oda Nobu’ which is to star younger actors as the older actors are essentially made redundant with Kamiyama side-lined to take part in exhibition sword fights to entertain tourists at the movie studio’s theme park.

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) given instruction on set by Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) for her big break

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) given instruction on set by Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) for her big break

Iga Satsuki, a bit part player, asks Kamiyama to coach her in sword fighting techniques which opens up opportunities for her and she eventually breaks through into lead roles and moves to Tōkyō but is prompted to remember her erstwhile teacher on a return visit to Kyōto tracking him down to his country home where she engages him in sword fight practice which triggers memories of his childhood, a scene so charming that it can challenge even the most hardy to hold back a tear. Playing on her star status Iga facilitates the return of Kamiyama and his former veteran colleagues to the studio for a new production of a film version of Edo Zakura.

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) practicing with Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) at his home

Iga Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) practicing with Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) at his home

Underscoring the main theme of the movie is the tension between the flippant cynicism and optimism of bit players in the movie industry as well as what seems to be a reflection on the cyclical nature of life experience; the tender friendship between the bar owner Tamura Mitsuru (Hisako Manda) when she was a younger starring actress and Princess of Uzumasa Castle and Kamiyama starting out in his acting career, and that between the older Kamiyama and his protégé the upcoming starring actress Iga Satsuki, as well as in the film within the film relationship between the acting roles of Kamiyama as a ‘kirare yaku’ and the lead actor Onoe Seijuro (played by the magnificent Hiroki Matsukata with his trademark foot stamping whirling blade technique and unmistakable bemused grimace) with which Uzumasa Limelight opens and closes. This is mirrored perhaps by the motif of the blossoming of Kamiyama’s bonsai in one of the movie’s more contemplative moments.

Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) and Onoe Seijuro (Hiroki Matsukata) facing off in Edo Zakura

Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) and Onoe Seijuro (Hiroki Matsukata) facing off in Edo Zakura

The movie is interspersed with some moments of wry tongue in cheek humour provided in the main by the young leading male star and lothario Jun Kudo hired for the new film production ‘Oda Nobu’, played by the Japanese actor Shogen. Overall though, the movie is imbued with a bittersweet melancholy that reflects on the changes that all must pass through in the autumn of their years. 

The glamour of Limelight, from which age must pass as youth enters – Charles Chaplin 

The film perhaps echoing parts of his own life experience Kamiyama gives a beautifully understated performance, as a result perhaps of never having really been in the limelight until now; a case of art imitating life. 

Utterly charming! 

Filmed on location in Kyōto and distributed by Eleven Arts

Website http://www.elevenarts.net/th_gallery/uzumasa-limelight/

Author Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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