I blogged about Lee Sang-il's (李相日) Unforgiven (許されざる者) a few weeks ago, but I thought I'd add my thoughts now that I've actually seen it.
Ken Watanabe (渡辺謙) does an amazing job filling Clint Eastwood's shoes in the main role, and is supported well by Yuya Yagira (柳楽優弥). Young Yagira plays a young alcoholic Ainu bandit, and outshines Jaimz Woolvett as the young side-kick from the original Unforgiven. I don't remember many other prominent Ainu characters or representations of Ainu culture in Japanese cinema. A similar but now extinct ethnic minority, the Emishi, were featured in Princes Mononoke.
Koichi Sato (佐藤浩市) is also mesmerizing as the power hungry law man, set on eradicating the 'outdated' rule of the samurai. He channels Gary Oldman's classic role from Leon, and I expect him to do well come award ceremony season.
The film's soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro (岩代太郎) also deserves some attention. The son of a songwriter, Iwashiro is known for his work with TV dramas, but recently moved in to the film domain. The western is a genre in that has had a huge impact on movie composers, largely thanks to the work of Ennio Morricone, the soundtrack acts as an additional role. So I was looking forward to a similarly distinguished soundtrack. Although some of the music in the early scenes were a bit distracting, I was really impressed with the music during the final act, I've been trying to track it down all week.
An all star cast re-enacting a highly well loved western classic, Unforgiven is bound to pick up a few Japanese Academy Awards, but it is sure to face some stiff competition from Hirokazu Kore'eda's Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる), and Hitoshi Matsumoto's R100.