‘Uzumasa Limelight’ offers a loving tribute to samurai films

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A cri de coeur on the samurai flicks of a bygone era, “Uzumasa Limelight” unfolds understatedly and movingly like something from Clint Eastwood at the top of his game.

The film seems to be loosely inspired by its 71-year-old star, Seizo Fukumoto — the most-killed kirareyaku stuntman in Japan, supposedly in extremis more than 50,000 times on screen, including in the Tom Cruise vehicle “The Last Samurai.”

Fukumoto stars as Seiichi Kamiyama, who has carved out a career as an expendable bit player. With period drama falling out of favor with audiences, he and other old hands are relegated to giving demonstrations at the studio theme park while enfant terrible directors, bratty actors and computer-generated swords bastardize their craft.

Aspiring actress Satsuki Iga (Chihiro Yamamoto) asks to train with Kamiyama, a subplot that brings to mind “Million Dollar Baby” or “The Next Karate Kid” and veers the film slightly toward syrupy melodrama.

But drenched in nostalgia, this loving tribute to the unsung heroes of cinema has immense appeal. Under filmmaker Ken Ochiai’s careful scrutiny, the veteran kirareyaku here hone their discipline into an art form. The stately, underlighted dolly shots gracefully evoke the golden age of Japanese sword-fight films. This is movie magic.


“Uzumasa Limelight.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles.