The Legend & Butterfly
レジェンド＆バタフライ (Regendo & Batafurai)
Japan, 2023, 168’, Japanese
Directed by: Otomo Keishi
Screenplay: Kosawa Ryota
Photography (color): Ashizawa Akiko
Editing: Imai Tsuyoshi
Music: Sato Naoki
Producers: Sato Yasushi, Imoto Ryusuke, Fukushima Satoshi, Morita Oji
Cast: Kimura Takuya, Ayase Haruka
Date of First Release in Territory: January 27th, 2023
Otomo Keishi's The Legend & Butterfly, which was made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Toei studio, looks like the sort of big-budget Japanese period drama that too often calls up adjectives like “dull” and “turgid.”
Based on a script by Kosawa Ryota, however, the film scraps the usual explanatory narration that brings back memories of soporific history classes – a daring choice for a mass-audience epic that clips through three decades in the complex lives of its two protagonists: warlord Oda Nobunaga (Kimura Takuya) and his wife, Nohime (Ayase Haruka).
Instead, it focuses on the pair’s relationship while brushing past much of what transpires around them, from clan wars to Nobunaga’s children by his various concubines. (Nohime was childless, though the film mentions a miscarriage.)
This will present little problem to Japanese period drama fans since much of what it depicts has been told and retold in countless novels, TV dramas and movies. They know the outlines, even if details are missing.
The film also heavily fictionalizes Nobunaga and Nohime’s marriage, about which little is known. But by stressing the legend, rather than leaning on skimpy and disputed facts, the film brings a fresh, feminist perspective to its story.
It begins with the couple’s political marriage in 1549, with a young Nobunaga suspecting that his sharp-tongued and formidably intelligent bride is a spy for her father, the lord of the neighboring Mino domain whose nickname is “The Viper.”
Heir to the Owari domain in what is now western Aichi Prefecture, Nobunaga is proud and arrogant, but also eccentric, yukking it up with clownish retainers and dressing in flashy-but-sloppy garb. Not surprisingly, Nohime regards him as a thick-headed fool. In scenes played for laughs, she also bests him as an archer and saves him from falling off a cliff. His respect for her grows, if not yet his affection.
A turning point comes in 1560 when Nobunaga, now the lord of Owari, is confronted with an invading army many times the size of his own. Just when he is on the point of committing seppuku (ritual suicide), Nohime proposes a battle plan and even an inspirational address to his troops. Her suggestions turn out to be brilliant and Nobunaga realizes that his prickly wife has her uses.
The film then shifts from this fast-paced and entertaining start to Nobunaga’s long, blood-soaked quest to destroy his enemies and unify Japan, with the years and big-scale battle scenes blinking by. Along the way, Nobunaga and Nohime finally connect romantically over the course of an eventful day spent walking around town in disguise to experience “normal” life.
Playing the grim-faced, middle-aged Nobunaga, Kimura is almost unrecognizable from his heyday as a member of the superstar pop idol group SMAP, but his heartthrob charisma still shines through. A bigger revelation is Ayase as Nohime. Once known for her roles as chipper, wide-eyed ingenues, Ayase dominates the screen with everything from the fierceness of her royal glare to the fineness of her comic timing.
Do you need a refresher course in the Warring States Era (1467-1615) history to enjoy the film? Not really. Think of it as a love story, with battles both inside and outside the bedroom.
Born in 1966 in Morioka City, Otomo Keishi joined public broadcaster NHK in 1990. From 1997 to 1999, he studied directing and scriptwriting in the United States. Returning to Japan, he directed TV dramas for NHK and in 2009 made his feature film debut with the corporate thriller The Vulture, based on his hit TV series. In 2011 he went freelance, and directed the hit 2012 period actioner Rurouni Kenshin, as well as its two follow-ups, both released in 2014. He later returned to the series with Rurouni Kenshin: The Final and Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning, a two-part film released in 2021.
FILMOGRAFIA SELEZIONATA / SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY
2009 – The Vulture
2012 – Rurouni Kenshin
2014 – Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
2014 – Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends
2021 – Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
2021 – Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning
2023 – The Legend & Butterfly