There are so many films, shows, games and comics out there about the 16th-century warlord Oda Nobunaga that many stories have resorted to, quite literally, demonizing the man in weirder and weirder ways in order to stand out. Director Keishi Otomo and writer Ryota Kosawa, however, have gone down a different route in The Legend & Butterfly (2023). While still playing with historical truth, they focus less on Nobunaga “The Demon King” (as he called himself) and instead show us Nobunaga, the husband of Lady No, the titular butterfly.

The Legend

While The Legend & Butterfly is, at its core, fiction, it wears the well-researched dress of impressive historical accuracy. It’s honestly astounding how many things the movie gets right about Nobunaga, from the type of belt and pants he wore, to how he liked to style his hair, his later love of dance and so much more.

This Nobunaga, played by ex-SMAP member Takuya Kimura, is also refreshingly multi-dimensional. He can be cruel, true, but also smart, cool-headed, funny, emotional and even pitiful, especially when his bride Lady No (Haruka Ayase) is beating his ass. Kimura’s performance might be the most well-rounded portrayal of Nobunaga since the 1992 NHK drama Nobunaga: King of Zipangu, only more impressive because it manages to do what the 49-episode-long series accomplished in less than three hours.

The Butterfly

For those who aren’t obsessed with Nobunaga nor care for historically-accurate minutiae, there is Lady No. Also known as Nohime or Kicho, she was Nobunaga’s lawful wife, but remains something of a mystery as there aren’t many historical sources that tell us what kind of a person she was. As an upside, this has given the creators of The Legend & Butterfly an excuse to craft their own Lady No.

What they came up with is a skilled fighter, in the tradition of the onna bugeisha (female samurai), who obeys her father’s order to enter into a political marriage with Nobunaga but doesn’t turn into a meek, compliant wife. She’s defiant, confident, romantic at heart and with time even gets the chance to show that she has a mind for military strategy. She’s a well-crafted character but when she’s onscreen with Nobunaga, something truly magical happens.

The Demon King and His Queen

The Legend & Butterfly has some battle scenes and is full of historical facts, but it’s not an action-adventure movie nor a documentary. It’s a historical romance about two fascinating people. On the surface, Nobunaga and Lady No could not seem more different, be it in dress or temperament. But you quickly start to notice the similarities between them, like how they both feel that their lives are not their own, or how strong headed they can be. Over time, they become even more in tune as they rub off on each other, with Nobunaga becoming calmer and more refined and Lady No occasionally giving into her wilder, bloodthirsty side.

As you watch the evolution of their relationship, you may even start to appreciate that the movie sacrificed a few action scenes in order to better show how Nobunaga and Lady No go from angry strangers to reluctant allies, political partners, friends and finally, lovers. Even if none of it is true.

History Be Damned

By the end of the movie, Nobunaga and Lady No are ready to leave their lives and titles behind and run away together to a place where no one knows their names, so they can start anew with nothing but love for each other. It’s a beautiful thought but it’s not supported in any way by historical sources.

Even if the real Nobunaga had feelings towards the woman that he was ordered to marry to secure a political alliance, he never told anyone about it. And he definitely didn’t act like it. The movie, however, through gorgeous cinematography and undeniable chemistry between Kimura and Ayase, makes you want to believe that that’s how it really happened. It’s then devastating when you learn that, no, it was probably completely different. If you’re looking for an emotional roller-coaster about love and loss, then The Legend & Butterfly might be right up your alley.