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April 2016

Uzumasa Limelight

cast: Seizo Fukumoto, Chihiro Yamamoto, Masashi Goda, Hirotaro Honda, and Hisako Manda

director: Ken Ochiai

103 minutes (15) 2014
widescreen ratio 16:9
Third Window Films
Blu-ray region B
[released 25 April]

RATING: 8/10
review by Steven Hampton

Uzumasa Limelight

Although it is billed as a homage to Charlie Chaplin's Limelight (1952), this Japanese drama about stuntmen in samurai action emerges from the shadowy levels of tribute pictures and presents us with a strong characterful storyline of matching quality and equal worthiness to its thematic inspiration.

Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto) is a formidable star presence - with or without a blade - while mentoring young actress Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto) into chanbara traditions, as she becomes Kyoto's new 'princess' of Uzumasa studios, the Hollywood of the east.

When a TV series is cancelled after 40 years, practical stoicism conflicts with mutedly sentimental asides as aged fall guy Kami has flashbacks to the beginning of his career when stars nurtured his acting talent for being "good at dying" on-screen. Young and hopeful extras are inducted into studio work, and prep for a massacre-aftermath shot turns into tragicomedy as an upstart novice director faces the veteran Kami's chilling wrath in a poignant 'zombie' sequence.

Traditional values collide with modern commercial projects, in scenes of integrity and craftsmanship versus frivolous showmanship, when newly unemployed Kami is pressed into performing 'live' street theatre for an Uzumasa theme park, while the studio's new TV series showcases garish wigs and CGI swords. Is the golden age of chanbara, and Edo-period TV that gave Kami his 'kirare yaku' profession, all over bar the shouting?

Teaching bright starlet Satsuki how to excel in mock combat, Kami and his very eager apprentice shift Uzumasa Limelight into a Karate Kid phase of training montages. But, astutely directed by Ken Ochiai (The Tiger Mask, Ninja The Monster), the movie never loses its uniquely Asian flavours, or its wholly respectful approach to celebrating the glory days of serious samurai serial entertainment.

Following his melancholy acceptance of retirement; and his retreat from Kyoto - back to his home-town; Kami is tracked down by rising star Satsuki for one last turn, and a sublimely poetic final stunt. It's the perfect ending to a fascinating character study.

DVD extras: a trailer and 21-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.



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