Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Unforgiven

For years Westerns have borrowed off ideas and premises from Japanese films. Japanese cinema is not only still a rich source of inspiration and creativity, but early Japanese cinema arguably gives early Western cinema a run for its money. Most notable is The Magnificent Seven, the 1960 classic Western starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen. Though The Magnificent Seven clearly stands on its own two feet, it's actually a remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 epic Seven Samurai. However, it's about time the tables were turned, right? Though I never knew it even existed until I bought the Blu-Ray, Unforgiven is a remake of one of Hollywood's best Westerns. The question is... is it any good?


Directed by Lee Sang-il and out now on DVD and Blu-Ray comes Unforgiven, one of the more impressive and worthwhile remakes I've ever seen. Unforgiven is a remake of the 1992 Western of the same name, which was directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The original film has been rightly hailed as a classic, and after receiving Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Film Editing, it single handedly brought the Western back into modern cinema. Followed by a string of Westerns in the years after, I would have thought it was unthinkable to remake this classic, but Lee Sang-il does a great job here. 

The story is pretty much the same as its American counterpart, and is even set around the same time period... only now the narrative instead shifts to the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido. Unforgiven focuses on Jubee Kamata, an ex-Shogunate swordsman who was highly feared during his days of slaughtering rebels. However, after fleeing his former life, Jubee lived out a large portion of his days manning a farm, while taking care of his wife and children. Sadly though, his wife, who allegedly turned him away from the dark road his former life was taking him down, passed away, leaving him with a barren farm and no way of supporting his children. To give his children a chance, Jubee is drawn back into his former life of killing, and takes a bounty alongside a former comrade and a young warrior. Blending superb action and intense drama, Unforgiven is a deeply personal tale about the cycle of violence and one man’s mission to put an end to that cycle.


The stand out role here is that of Jubee himself, played wonderfully by Ken Watanabe, who you'll probably recognize from the likes of Inception and, most recently, Godzilla. He doesn't simply redo what Clint Eastwood did for the role in 1992, but rather tries to make it his own. Compared to the original portrayal of the character, Jubee here comes across a little more mentally unprepared for what he's about to face, even if the skills needed are, and have always been, right there waiting to get out. He's backed up by a great cast too, and everyone involved helps prevent the film from becoming “a remake of Unforgiven”, as opposed to its own piece of cinema.

Unforgiven is beautifully shot too, with most scenes looking incredibly lavish and breath-taking. The stunning photography here of Japan litters Unforgiven to great effect, which only hits home how suited this classically Western tale is for a Japanese setting, much like how Seven Samurai easily found a home in the Wild West in 1960. This visual brilliance even extends to the sword-on-sword action scenes too, which may be even more intense than what Clint Eastwood achieved in his 1992 film.


Overall, Unforgiven is a huge surprise. Was it needed? Well, no. Is it welcomed? Absolutely! Through bringing the tale to the Meiji era, Lee Sang-il has brought new life and exciting possibilities to the story. There's more going on beneath the surface than a simple location change, but that does spice up things a great deal.

Unforgiven is forgiven and gets a 5/5.

[★★★★★]

Denis Murphy


Unforgiven at CeX


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