Masaaki Akahori makes an impressive cinema debut with The Samurai That Night, a powerful exploration of grief and revenge adapted from his own play.
Five years after his wife is killed in a hit and run, Kenichi Nakamura (Masato Sakai) plots to avenge her by killing Kijima (Takayuki Yamada), the loutish driver responsible for her death.
If it’s to work, a revenge film must convince the audience to feel sorrow and pity for the avenger even as they plot to end another’s life.
Akahori’s script and Sakai’s mournful performance ensure Kenichi is a suitably tragic character who seemingly spends every day of the intervening five years listening to his wife’s final answer-phone message and living around her ashes.
In case this combination somehow doesn’t instantly win over the audience, Akahori plays safe by writing Kijima so brutal, unlikeable and utterly unredeemable that it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him as the day of reckoning approaches.
The film makes the audience almost beg for the pair’s inevitable face-off, but when it finally comes, it doesn’t disappoint.
Before we get there Akahori offers a touching side-plot in which Kenichi’s brother-in-law tries to matchmake him with a co-worker and move on from his sister’s death.
His inability to charm the girl shows the depth of his endless grief, further cementing the audience’s acceptance of his planned murder of Kijima.
Though slightly too long, The Samurai That Night is and enjoyable and heart-wrenchingly compelling exploration of our darker emotions.
Our verdict: 4/5
The Samurai That Night is showing as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival. Visit bfi.org.uk/lff for screening details and booking info.