I first saw the trailer for Uzumasa Limelight 「太秦ライムライト」 on the Japan Foundation Touring Film 2016 website initially, and I was thrilled to see on Third Window Film‘s Facebook page that a Blu-ray release was then imminent.

There were a few obvious features in the trailer that caught my eye, apart from *koff* Yamamoto Chihiro[1]. Firstly, it was a film about film-making of the samurai genre, and second, it featured Bob!

‘Bob’ was the silent samurai who closely followed Tom Cruise’s character in captivity in Ed Zwick’s The Last Samurai, and after reading more about Fukumoto Seizo and how this film is somewhat autobiographical with regards to his work in Japanese film, I had to watch it.

Fukumoto plays Kamiyama Seiichi, a kirare-yaku whose sole role in period (jidai-geki) films were to die on-screen, usually dramatically. Interestingly, Fukumoto is an actual kirare-yaku and was credited to have performed 50,000 on-screen deaths (including that one in Hollywood). Uzumasa is pretty much the “Hollywood” of Japan[2], located in Kyōto. The film follows Kamiyama and his kirare-yaku colleagues’ trials and tribulations after a long-running samurai drama was scrapped to make way for new (read young) blood. What was left for them were bit parts in crappy yakuza films, or performing at sword fights for the tourists at the theme park.

Kamiyama was then approached Iga Satsuki (Yamamoto-chan), an extra who had just started working at the studio. Iga was able to get the initially reluctant Kamiyama to teach her the art of samurai sword fighting and as luck would have it, she landed a plum role by chance. The film then cuts forward a few years later when a now-famous Iga returns to the Kyōto studio[3] to work but Kamiyama had long left studio work to tend to his farm in his hometown.

This delightful film was actually released way back in 2014 and took part in several film festivals (with a couple of awards under its belt, including a Best Actor Award for Fukumoto-san, much to his surprise). Apparently, it was a film done in the spirit of Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 opus Limelight[4], and you may just see a pictorial clue to it in the photo above. Uzumasa Limelight was directed by Ochiai Ken, and interestingly has a conspicuous number of Americans involved in the production (including the DoP). I also noticed that Ochiai went to film school in California and already had a number of works done in the USA under his belt. The film is now available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray.

[1]Don’t mess with her. Yamamoto-chan holds several world junior wushu championship titles!
[2]Toei Kyōto Studio Park seems attractive enough for me to add to the list the next time I visit!
[3]The film was shot partially on the Toei Studio lot.
[4]Not seen it yet. Heh.