‘The Legend & Butterfly’ Review: Takuya Kimura & Haruka Ayase Reunite for Epic Love Story (Japan Cuts 2023)

This year the annual Japan Cuts film festival was held and NanteJapan was given the chance to review movies being showed at the festival. One of the films being shown was the new historical romance epic “The Legend & Butterfly” directed by Keishi Otomo of the Rurouni Kenshin film series.


Made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the film and television production company Toei,”The Legend & Butterfly” tells the story of Nobunaga Oda (played by Takuya Kimura), a military commander from the Sengoku period and his lawful wife Nohime (played by Haruka Ayase). The young lord Nobunaga is forced by his father into marrying the daughter of his rival in an attempt to avoid escalating conflict between the two regions. Brought together through a political marriage, from the start it’s obvious that the two are like oil and water. With war on the horizon and both of their fathers passing away, they embrace a common dream of unifying Japan and their bond begins to deepen. “The Legend & Butterfly” depicts how Nobunaga Oda became one of Japan’s most important historical figures and the beloved woman who helped him get there. 


The budget did not waste time in making the film look like a grand and extravagant Jidaigeki with gorgeous costuming, magnificent sets, and an all-star cast. The biggest issue with “The Legend & Butterfly” was the attempt to use a 2 hour and 48 minute runtime to cover 33 years of the lives of the two main characters. In fact, many things written about Nobunaga Oda are rooted in theories and myths, not to mention that there is barely any concrete information available about the real Nohime. The writers did not have much to work with, so they made Haruka Ayase’s Nohime into a very tough and girlboss character, which was a joy to watch. Ultimately the marriage being depicted onscreen becomes a fictionalized version of what it may or may not have been, but it worked as a rocky love story. As far as the historical events were shown, it all seemed fast paced and rushed, but was essentially simplified in order to appeal to as many viewers as possible. For those who have not studied Japanese history, it may be a blessing that the historical events portions were shown in bite size bits with on-screen text letting you know what year and what the main focus was. Clearly one movie was not enough to fully explore the narratives of what was going on in Sengoku period Japan and the relationship between Nobunaga and Nohime. If someone wanted to learn more specifically about Nobunaga Oda and the unification of Japan, I would suggest watching a different film or series. It became more obvious that the film was marketing itself more as a tragic love story than a war epic when the battles that were being discussed are essentially not shown or just briefly shown. It isn’t until the ending where the infamous Honno-ji Incident occurs, that the real action portion begins. 


Regarding the tragic romance aspects, in the beginning of the film Nobunaga is an immature 15 year old lord (Kudos to Takuya Kimura for trying to play a teenager) while Nohime, already previously married twice sees him as just a country bumpkin and the two do not hit it off at all. Their hostile interactions and mutual dislike for a good portion of the movie makes it exciting to watch as their relationship progresses. With Kimura and Ayase’s chemistry they were able to successfully sell a love story of two individuals who were forced to be together to maintain power but ultimately grow fondness towards each other. 


Overall, “The Legend & Butterfly” was not a bad film per say, but just ultimately ends up feeling like a missed opportunity and a let down as a commemoration film for Toei Studios 70th anniversary. Like previously mentioned, if the film was made into a trilogy instead of trying to cram everything in 3 hours, the relationship between the two main characters could have been explored on deeper levels. 


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