The Legend & Butterfly (2023)

The Legend & Butterfly (2023)

A stunning Japanese historical epic let down by its fictional romance

6.5

Movie

Japan
Japanese
Drama, History, Romance
2023
KEISHI OTOMO
Ai Mikami, Daisuke Honda, Haruka Ayase
168 min

TLDR

Given that this was about a political marriage, I wish there were more of the politics here, but at least the production design, costumes, and score were great.

What it's about

To establish peace between their neighboring domains, warlord Oda Nobunaga marries the Viper’s daughter Nohime. However, after the death of her father, Nohime and Nobunaga must rely on each other to defend their clans from another, and to unite all the provinces under their command.

The take

Made to commemorate Toei Studio’s 70th anniversary, The Legend & Butterfly seemed like a good choice for this purpose. As a historical epic about the first Great Unifier of Japan, the film could have enabled the production company to show off their studio’s best in production design, set pieces, costumes, and score, through a familiar story Japanese audiences would care about. And with Nohime having a near blank slate in history, it gives enough creative freedom for the team to craft a heartrending romance. While the design aspects definitely succeeded, the romance did not. On top of this, the film’s focus on the romance takes away time, effort, and emotional resonance from the large-scale spectacular war battles that epics like these are known for.

What stands out

The Legend & Butterfly’s romance felt like it could have worked if Nobunaga and Nohime’s characters were written differently. Inherent to this romance is the idea that in strengthening their union, they strengthen their clans, to the extent that they can handle any enemy that comes their way. Even Nohime’s girlboss characterization could have worked here too, as her capability could have challenged Nobunaga.

However, aside from their initial dislike for each other, we haven’t seen Nobunaga and Nohime care about anything – their people, or their provinces, or even for peace. It also feels insulting to depict one of Japan’s first leaders as someone incompetent. Because of this, it’s hard to root for their romance, or even just root for them to stay friends long enough to unite Japan.

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