The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai is directed by Takashi Koizumi, and based on the book Togue by Ryotaro Shiba. In the waning days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the warrior classes were split in two. One army wanted to keep the Shogunate in power, while the other bowed to imperial power. This leads to the events of the Boshin War, which changed the path of Japan’s history. However, the samurai Tsuginosuke Kawai (Koji Yakusho) chooses to abstain from the war, while also taking steps to try and find a peaceful resolution.
The samurai has long been a fixture in popular culture. From anime like Yasuke and Samurai Champloo to video games like Ghost of Tsushima, Feudal Japan has been fertile ground for storytellers. But the filmmaker who seemed to thrive in this area is Akira Kurosawa. His films, including Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, gave birth to entire genres – most notably the spaghetti Western – and cemented him as one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. And a large part of that cinematic legacy is due to Koizumi, who served as an assistant director on many of Kurosawa’s films. So it doesn’t surprise me that this is one of the few films that actually grasps Kurosawa’s style.
Many people, when they think of Kurosawa’s films, often think they boil down to a monochromatic color scheme or a lengthy runtime. But those are just aesthetics. It’s the character work that drew people to Kurosawa’s work, whether it was the stoic Sanjuro in Yojimbo or the titular warriors in Seven Samurai.
Koizumi leans into that in The Pass, focusing on Tsuginosuke’s attempts to keep the peace. In between meetings with other samurai, he’s also shown spending quiet time with his wife Suga (Takako Matsu). Suga, who narrates the film, often reflects on her husband’s strength of spirit and how it drew her to him. And that strength of spirit serves him not just in battle but also in a debate: he can talk down a group of assassins by appealing to their honor.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that The Pass is a gorgeous film. Cinematographers Hiroyuki Kitazawa and Shoji Ueda stage several shots that One Shot Twitter would love. Rolling emerald waves are set against a rising sun. Fog rolls over the aftermath of a battle, giving it a ghostly look. And an army of samurai charge through the night, with their jet black armor blending into the night and giving them the appearance of a massive wave of darkness. Koizumi also knows how to stage events for maximum efforts, building up to the film’s final battle and then lingering on the aftereffects of it.
The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai serves as a spiritual successor to the work of Akira Kurosawa, and is touching and tragic. History buffs, as well as fans of Kurosawa’s films, will want to give this a watch. And while Fantasia Fest isn’t over, I feel confident in naming this as one of the best films in this year’s lineup.
The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai had its premiere at Fantasia International Film Fest 2022 and hasn’t released in the US.
The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai
The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai serves as a spiritual successor to the work of Akira Kurosawa, and is equal parts touching and tragic. History buffs, as well as fans of Kurosawa’s films, will definitely want to give this a watch. And while Fantasia Fest isn’t over, I feel confident in naming this as one of the best films in this year’s lineup.