Laughter or ritual suicide in Japan samurai comedy

Tue Jun 7, 2011 11:22pm EDT
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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - The price for a failed joke is usually dead silence or derisive jeering. But the hapless warrior hero of a new Japanese samurai comedy film must succeed with his humor or pay the ultimate price -- by committing ritual suicide.

Despite being only the third film made by popular Japanese director Hitoshi Matsumoto, "Scabbard Samurai" has already gained international attention, along with a premiere at the massive open air screen of Switzerland's Festival del film Locarno in August.

"I feel that I've been very lucky to have my film shown at the world's largest film fair and the biggest screen, even though I've only made three," Matsumoto said at a select screening earlier this week.

The film follows a swordless middle-aged samurai as he is forced to make a very young ruler laugh. Failure means he must commit seppuku, or ritual disembowelment.

Takaaki Nomi, the actor who plays the hero, is making his screen debut.

Matsumoto, who first gained fame in Japan as a comedian, began making films in 2007 with "Big Man Japan," a fake documentary about a man who grows nearly 30 meters high that was shown at Cannes. His other film was "Symbol" in 2009.

"Big Man Japan" has been signed for a remake by Columbia Pictures, and Matsumoto has said he would like to have a hand in the production.

"Scabbard Samurai" will be released on June 11 in Japan and make its international premiere in Locarno.

(Reporting by Shunsuke Ide, editing by Elaine Lies)