There’s an art to wearing a kimono and other traditional clothing that are from a time before double-knit and spandex. Most Japanese men and women don’t know how to wear kimonos and few men are comfortable enough in the traditional Edo period clothes to be able to walk in them. Yet for jidaigeki (period pieces), actors need to do more than just walk. Some of them need to fight with sword and while there might a handful of name actors in a movie, you also need a lot of extras to fight and to die. “Uzumasa Limelight” is about those extras and is currently screening at the Laemmle.

According to the introductory sequence of this movie, there were men who specialized graceful samurai deaths were called the kirare yaku and lived in Uzumasa (Kyoto). At one times, this was considered the Hollywood of Japan.

Yet tastes come and go. When the westerns weren’t popular many American cowboy actors hung up their boots and sold their saddles. Likewise in Japan, when the jidaigeki (period) movies and TV shows declined and the golden age of chanbara (sword-fighting dramas) was over, these workers have to find other jobs. Yet what were they skilled for in this modern world?

Most of the background actors in any country don’t become part of the movie industry to be and remain an extra. “Uzumasa Limelight”  deals with one particular kirare yaku, Kamiyama (Seizō Fukumoto), who has made a living by dying spectacularly. At his age, he would not have been able to go on much longer anyways and yet he feels he hasn’t done enough.

By chance, he meets a young girl, Satsuki (Chihiro Yamamoto), who becomes his disciple. He trains her in this dying art of dying, and she brings renewed attention to the chanbara genre and becomes what Kamiyama was never able to become–a star.

The movie takes its title from a quote from Charlie Chaplin: “The glamour of limelight from which age must pass as youth enters.”

Crisply directed by Ken Ochiai, this nostalgic movie deals with traditions, economic survival and those damned kids at theme parks. The movie won a Best Feature Cheval Noir award for the director and a Jury Prize for Best Actor (Seizō Fukumoto) at the Fantasia Film Festival. The movie is currently at the Laemmle. In Japanese with English subtitles.

UZUMASA LIMELIGHT director Ken Ochiai and producer Ko Mori will participate in Q&A’s after the 4:20 and 9:50 screenings at the Royal on Friday, December 5; after the 9:50 screening at the Royal on Saturday, December 6; and after the 4:50 screenings at the Playhouse on Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7.

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