25th Far East Film Festival: “The Legend & Butterfly” Review

Oda Nobunaga, Japan’s first “great unifier”, has been depicted on screen countless times. Depending on the angle of the narrative the daimyo can either be seen as a hero or villain; romantic lead or malevolent foe; the Fool of Owari or the Demon King. Often his part in unifying the country during the Sengoku period is viewed through the eyes of men, with Nobunaga measured by his victories on the battlefield. Rarely has he been defined by his relationships.

Keishi Otomo, the director of the critically acclaimed Rurouni Kenshin live-action films, has decided to change that with his latest: The Legend & Butterfly. Set over three decades, the epic jidaigeki examines Nobunaga’s life through the relationship he shared with his wife, Nohime. Takuya Kimura and Haruka Ayase portray the warlord and his bride respectively as they navigate their political marriage, first as strangers, then as friends, and finally as lovers. The drama does revisit key points in history but make no mistake, it is Nobunaga and Nohime’s romance that takes centre stage.

Very little is known about Nohime in history, and so this gave Otomo and Ayase free reign to depict her in a refreshing way. As the daughter of daimyo Saitō Dōsan, the Viper of Mino, Nohime does not suffer fools, she is a fierce warrior and even has her own ambitions for the unification of Japan. Ayase’s performance, Otomo’s direction, and screenwriter Ryoto Kosawa’s script makes Nohime a powerful force onscreen. She is captivating as a leader in the shadows and her strength of character makes the film a standout amongst the plethora of others that have been dedicated to Nobunaga’s story. Simply put, it was a smart move to put so much emphasis on Nohime.

Ayase and Kimura share remarkable chemistry together; even when their characters are fighting the actors portray them in such a way that there is a fiery passion shared between Nobunaga and Nohime. The film also examines the potential reason why the couple did not have children with care, it does so in a way that is empathetic in a world that may not have viewed Nohime in such light, in reality. This is something that is only heightened by Ayase and Kimura’s moving performances, and their romance becomes that much more compelling as a result.

What is also interesting about Otomo’s depiction of Nobunaga is that he does not shy away from either side of the daimyo: he is both the Fool of Owari and the ruthless Demon King. Depicting Nobunaga as neither hero nor villain, but rather a morally grey figure, is thought-provoking, particularly when his accolades and immoral actions are so well known already. Kimura also rises to the challenge of portraying Nobunaga in different ways over the years, making viewers laugh with him in one moment and then be appalled by him in another. Otomo also makes interesting choices throughout the film, such as juxtaposing Nobunaga and Nohime as they perform a ritual ahead of an important battle, and making the film have a surprisingly emotional climax (which we will not spoil here). All in all, the way Nobunaga and Nohime’s story is told makes the nearly three-hour film fly by, to the point where viewers are still left wanting more despite the long runtime.

Otomo has proven himself time and again in the Japanese film industry, and with films like Rurouni Kenshin franchise under his belt it should come as no surprise that The Legend & Butterfly is so captivating. Through intriguing directorial choices, a compelling narrative, and a fantastic cast, the film breathes new life into a subject that may have otherwise felt all too familiar to what has come before it. It’s certainly not one to be missed.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written by Roxy Simons

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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