Yurusarezaru Mono, the Warner Bros Japan-produced remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture Oscar-winner Unforgiven, had its official screening here in Venice on Friday night. The out-of-competition selection met with widely positive reactions, especially for the strong cast and lush cinematography by Norimichi Kasamatsu. When the Japanese project was originally proposed, Eastwood was consulted for his yea or nay. He gave his approval, and I’m told that he has seen and likes the finished product. The movie next heads to Toronto, and Warner opens it in Japan on September 13th. I understand it’s being trailered locally with Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, the box office hit that had a berth here in competition.
Directed by Lee Sang-il, Yurusarezaru Mono hews very closely to the original film’s arc. Here, a legendary former Samurai is coaxed out of retirement – and a vow of non-violence – by an old friend seeking a reward for avenging a knife attack on a prostitute (check out the trailer). The island of Hokkaido in 1880s Meiji era Japan steps in for Wyoming and Samurai replace gunslingers, although there are still plenty of guns to go around. Ken Watanabe stars in the Eastwood role, veteran actor Akira Emoto has the Morgan Freeman part, Kôichi Satô steps in for Gene Hackman and Yûya Yagira, who won Cannes’ top acting prize for 2004’s Nobody Knows, is the young upstart. Kill Bill‘s Jun Kunimura, who featured in Venice Horizons hit Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, also appears in the role that Richard Harris originated.
The director, Watanabe, Emoto and Yagira were in Venice on Friday to talk about the film. Through a translator, Lee said that after experiencing the original at the age of 10, he was impacted by the way its title got to “the very essence of the movie.” It stuck with him, but he also wanted to add in the “historical background” of Hokkaido. The northern Japanese island where the film takes place was home to the native Ainu who faced racial discrimination, one of the undercurrents of the film. “History becomes blurred with the passage of time,” Lee said.
Shooting in Hokkaido provided its own logistical problems, however. In order to access locations, cast and crew lugged equipment to remote areas each day. The harsh environment was tough, but “fun” Emoto said. He was just glad he “didn’t freeze to death.”
Asked how much of a cue he took from the 1992 picture, Watanabe said, “We had the original image of the film” in mind, but he found it eventually ebbed away. “I chose to be imbued by a new historical time… The image of Eastwood faded and I created my own image.” Watanabe, next up in Warner’s Godzilla and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, previously worked with Eastwood on Letters From Iwo Jima. But he says he didn’t have direct contact with him over taking up the former’s Will Munny role (‘Jubei Kamata’ in the new version). “When Lee got the idea of developing the project, there were some discussions between Warner Japan and Warner in America, so we were in touch with the producers. But let’s say that I received from Clint Eastwood the possibility of applying my criteria to the performance.”