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Damn I wish I spoke Japanese. Still, even without being able to understand what these performers are saying, it’s easy to be taken in by this trailer’s striking visuals, stirring soundtrack, and steely bravado of Ken Watanabe in this intriguing remake of Unforgiven. Of course some will sneer at the very thought of remaking the 1992 Western that is already considered a classic of the genre. The captivating tale of an aging cowboy’s last adventure was directed and starred Clint Eastwood, and took home four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. How dare anyone attempt to remake it, right?
That was certainly my first thought about Japan’s re-invention on the story of a retired warrior who picks up his weapons one last time to seek justice and vengeance. But if the trailer up top isn’t enough to stir your curiosity, allow me to lay out why this remake is actually pretty inspired.
First off, the Western and Samurai genres have a lot in common, as you’ll actually see when The Wolverine opens later this week. Both usually focus on an outsider who is called upon to put himself at risk to save a town/village from some menace, who like himself, does not play by society’s rules. In Westerns, he is a cowboy. In samurai movies, he is obviously a samurai. These genres have exchanged their premises pretty freely over the years. Memorably, John Sturges’ iconic 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But more to the point, the Western that cemented Eastwood’s own legacy in Western’s, 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, was essentially a remake of Kurosawa’s ronin drama Yojimbo. So, it’s sort of poetic that Eastwood’s work will now give back to the genre that indirectly did so much for him.
Adapted and directed by Sang-il Lee, this Unforgiven stars international star Ken Watanabe in the Eastwood role. Considering the American movie legend was Watanabe’s director in one of his Academy Award-winning films (Letters from Iwo Jima), we suspect Watanabe has a great respect for this part and hasn’t taken on this project lightly. Besides that, Watanabe has proven himself to be an incredible actor, working in both Japan and the U.S. Aside from Eastwood, he’s worked with such celebrated directors as Jûzô Itami (Tampopo), Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Christopher Nolan (Inception, Batman Begins). And perhaps most noteworthy, he earned an Academy Award nomination in 2004 for his supporting role in The Last Samurai. So, if anyone could shoulder an Unforgiven remake that might appeal to the Japanese and Americans, it’d be Watanabe.
Set in the 1880 in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the drama centers on Jubee Kamata (Watanabe) a man still living by the samurai code, but retired, who accepts a dangerous job because, frankly, his poverty demands he go after the reward attached. Warner Bros. produced the picture that also stars Jun Kunimura, Yuya Yagira, Akira Emoto, Eiko Koike, Shiori Kutsuna and Koichi Sato. Unforgiven will open in Japan on September 13th. There’s no word yet on if or when it will open Stateside, but we’re hoping (and betting) it will.