Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is a single mother with a stressful middle-management job. While rushing to take her young son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) to school, she stumbles into a samurai (Ryo Nishikido) in front of her local supermarket – a belligerent warrior who has been magically transported from 18th century Edo to the present day.
There is something innately delightful about A Boy and his Samurai, which takes a fairly grand premise – a samurai trapped in present-day Tokyo – and then plays it out in a weirdly small-scale and intimate manner. Yasube the samurai adapts to his new circumstance in the most unflappable and stoic of ways: unable to return to the profession in which he is trained, he essentially becomes Hiroko’s domestic helper. When he discovers that he has a gift for baking, he segues into working as a professional pastry chef. All the while a potential romance with Hiroko is blocked by his very old-fashioned, honourable worldview.
Ryo Nishikido does a superb job as Yasube, with regular feelings of confusion, embarrassment, and anger always half-hidden beneath a gruff, immovable facade. He performs the film’s funniest moments, whether trying to play a Pokemon card game with young Tomoya or putting the boy through sword katas in the local park. It is refreshing to see a comedy of this kind let its protagonist be an independently-minded and intelligent person – all too often a time traveller’s discomfort and confusion gets exaggerated by making them actively stupid. By contrast, Yasube is allowed to work things out for himself. He is endearingly confused, but also muddles his way through in a pleasing and watchable fashion. A Boy and his Samurai does work from a ridiculous premise – it is based on a manga by Gen Araki – but Nishikido’s performance manages to take something quite silly and ground it in a heartfelt manner. His working relationship with Fuku Suzuki is excellent, and together they give Yasube and Tomoya a rather touching sort of uncle/nephew dynamic.
Rie Tomosaka is appealing as Hiroko, particularly in scenes where she uncomfortably works in a design office between a patriarchal boss and a rather seedy sexist employee. She is allowed to find her own confidence as the film progresses, although it is fair to say her narrative is sidelined to an extent by the one between Tomoya and Yasube.
Technically speaking, the film is directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura in an understated and tidy fashion. With a strong focus on character, he keeps any visual flourishes out of the way. It does mean A Boy and his Samurai never feels particularly provocative and ground-breaking, but it also makes for a rather pleasant and comfortable watch. The film has a purpose and it neatly fulfils it over a leisurely 108 minutes. The film’s conclusion leaves things wrapped up in an efficient and enjoyable fashion, but wisely leaves a door open just a little for any potential sequel – a sequel that has, rather sadly, not yet eventuated. Even so, on its own merits, this is a nicely enjoyable family-oriented movie – and for bakery enthusiasts it is something of a minor delight.