This movie tells the story of Iguchi Seibei, a low ranking samurai through the remniscences of his daughter.
The movie is set in 19th century Japan, in the declining years of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Once the Tokugawas became the Shoguns in the 17th century, they froze the status of all the people (so, a farmer couldnt become a warrior, the warrior couldnt go back to becoming a farmer etc) with the Samurai (the warrior class) on the top. They also managed to do what no one else had been able to do in Japanese history up to that point, which was to impose a peace that held for nearly 250 years. The clans were no longer permitted to war upon each other, and indeed, even private duels were frowned upon. So, the samurai we see in this movie are not the warriors of the Sengoku Jidai period (like in Kagemusha, Ran or Seven Samurai), but admininstrators, managers, clerks and politicians.
This is not a 'standard' samurai movie. If you come in looking for guys dressed in period armour swinging swords and spears at each other, you will be disappointed. Twilight Samurai moves at a more deliberate pace. The grand events of the time(the rebellion by the Choshu Clan, the loosening grip of the Shogunate, food shortages causing starvation deaths) serve more as a background rather than being the main story.
I was really impressed with the tone of the movie and the marvelously restrained acting of the leads. Apparently this movie was a mega-hit in japan and the Japanese really identified with Seibei. I do not blame them. Hiroyuki Sanada has played this role to perfection. He's the same actor who played the tough-guy samurai Ujio who beats up Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.
Iguchi Seibei is a poor samurai whose wife has just died after a long illness. Her illness and funeral have left him deep in debt. He has to support his two daughters and his senile mother on a meager income. He hurries back home after work every day to do the daily chores and works in the night to make little insect cages to supplement his income.
Despite all these stresses, he goes about his life doing what needs to be done without complaint. He is a conscientious and caring father. In all, he leads a contented life, and asks for no more than to be able to continue living that way.
Then, one day, he meets his childhood friend Tomoe... I will let you, gentle reader, to discover what happens next.