Directed by Yoji Yamada, starring Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi and Mitsuru Fukikoshi.

The title of this movie does refer to a Japanese samurai, but martial arts fans should be warned that the film only offers two fight scenes. It does, however, give an insightful and beautifully shot portrayal of Japanese society at the end of its feudal period, when social classes are still rigid but the importance of the samurai is waning.

Our hero is Seibei Iguchi (Sanada), a low-ranking samurai of the Unasaka clan who is mostly confined to bureaucratic tasks. In the film's opening scene, Seibei finds himself widowed and is forced to take on extra work to support his family. Seibei starts to rush home from work every day to take care of his senile mother and two young daughters, quickly earning him the nickname that gives the movie its title.

His predicament looks like it may improve when his childhood love Tomoe (Miyazawa) divorces her alcoholic, violent husband and begins to help out with housework at Seibei's home.

Seibei then takes on Tomoe's ex-husband in a duel and, when he summarily defeats the drunkard in a short fight scene that is impressively filmed in a single shot, the samurai's reputation among his peers increases.

However, when Seibei is asked to marry Tomoe, he is forced to confront his sense of social propriety and consider whether he is too embarrassed by his poverty to accept her hand. Then, becoming embroiled in the era's troubled times, he is asked against his will to confront and kill a warrior who is on the wrong side of a clan power struggle.

Nominated for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, 'The Twilight Samurai' is unusual in that it offers a hero who is not at the top of his game and does not show any ambition to climb the ladder and become a top samurai. Instead, it depicts an ordinary man who prizes his family life above his career, and gently suggests that this may not be the worst attitude to life.

Bill Lehane