This was apparently a huge hit as a seven-part miniseries on NHK, and now it's being released theatrically with a different cast.
I've only seen the first five episodes, without subtitles, so my knowledge of plot points is pretty bare bones. It's not a spoiler to say the two main characters survive, since the story starts with them remembering what happened to them during the course of a 25-year friendship. Still, it's driving me crazy not having seen the last two episodes. It's addictive, as any good soap opera is.
The narrator is very clear about the type of story it is at the beginning, a small historical drama, but a big love story. In brief, the adopted son of a petty samurai is separated from the love of his life and forced to go under cover to avenge the unjust execution of his father. There's enough in this production to make it appeal to chanbara fans and not drive away people who take their romantic dramas seriously.
The cast is solid with three of Japan's best veteran male character actors in brief but crucial roles (Renji Ishibashi, Mikijiro Hira and Akira Emoto). This is not to slight any of the other actors' performances, which are all pitch perfect. Miki Ito, who plays Fuku as a child (and was Seibei's older daughter in "Twilight Samurai"), is largely silent in this role, owing to the character's shyness, and she nails it.
This may seem trivial, but all the adolescent actors used to play characters at earlier ages, except for the one who plays Bunshiro at 15, strongly resemble the adult actors who play the same characters. I have no problem with any of the kids' performances, but it was jarring that the boy who plays the young Bunshiro didn't look anything like Masaaki Uchino, who plays him as an adult.
Some might find the music a little over the top. In certain spots it was as if someone was holding up a sign for the audience saying, "weep." Believe me, if you cry at movies, you'll cry at this one, and you won't need the music to cue you.
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