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The Hidden Blade - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Kakushi ken oni no tsume

Japan 2004


Yoji Yamada

Masatoshi Nagase
Takako Matsu
Hidetaka Yoshioka
Yukiyoshi Osawa
Tomoko Tabata
Kunie Tanaka
Chieko Baishô
Reiko Takashima
Sachiko Mitsumoto

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The Hidden Blade

Story: Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) and Samon Shibada (Hidetaka Yoshioka) bid farewell to the samurai Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Osawa) who has been sent to Edo. Samon wants to marry Katagiri's sister soon and Katagiri has his eyes on the maid Kie (Takako Matsu). However, three years later Kie is married to a rich merchant. By accident Katagiri meets her again and realizes how bad she is treated by her new family. When she even lies in bed fatally ill for three months Katagiri takes her with him and nurses her back to health at his home. Out of gratefulness she once again works as his maid. But because of his actions there are soon bad rumors spreading. Yet things get even worse when there happens to be an act of betrayal within the clan. Hazama is said to have been plotting against the clan and is taken into custody. Shortly after that he manages to escape, though, and Katagiri, who never before pointed his sword against a human being, is now supposed to face him in a duel.

Review: It's impossible not to see the parallels to "The Twilight Samurai". In fact "The Hidden Blade" seems to take on the same story and shift its focus more on the influence of western powers, who with their firearms played a more and more major part in a country that underwent a serious change. Moreover it turns its attention more on the growing meaninglessness of the samurai. On its own the movie is a small gem, but even in comparison to "The Twilight Samurai" there is enough new stuff to discover. And maybe it's just those parallels that make it possible to instantly feel at home in Yoji Yamada's world. Anyway, this sequel stands as a fantastic, subtle samurai flick.

It can't be pointed out often enough that director Yamada actually wants to leave the realms of traditional chambara movies with his samurai-trilogy (which "Love and Honor" is also a part of). Accordingly, action fans should be looking for their treat somewhere else. There are no exciting sword fights to be found here, with the exception of a small showdown. "The Hidden Blade" wants to look behind the scenes and show the absurdities of the way of the samurai which come to light as the west introduces a new way of living to the Japanese society and the film does so in a subtle fashion and at a leasurely pace. At the same time it is also made obvious that the west has traditions that aren't really less ridiculous yet have to be adopted as they at least have on advantage: they are effective.

In a very indicative scene a bunch of bumpkin-samurai is supposed to learn military drill. But not one of them sees why they should act swiftly according to commands like "Turn right". In humorously touched scenes the new methods of the west are put against the Japanese ones on several occasions. For example, there is a samurai sprinting in an extremely aeasthetic but slow fashion after his instructor, who simply runs as fast as he can without paying attention to anything else. But this isn't the only thing that is more effective. The use of firearms, which poses some serious difficulties at first leading to everyone running around like chickens who have lost their head when operating a cannon during a performance, also proves to be far superior to the swords of samurai. The old rulers are reluctant to accept the new inventions, but those who want to survive need to adapt.

Katagiri is someone who finds himself in the middle of change, yet remains unaffected by it at first. The age he is living in allows him to lead a pretty eventless life, but suddenly he is caught in the fight between the current ruling system and revolutionaries. He gets to know the hypocrisy of his superiors and follows the way of the samurai more appropriately than them, even though he would like to never have to draw his sword. Katagiri's understanding of honor and loyalty eventually forces him to challange his former friend to a duel. But he also isn't afraid of pursuing injustice and raise his voice against his superiors if there is something he doesn't agree with, well aware that this might cost him his head.

A nice, pure love story completes the film, and thus Katagiri isn't married after all those years as he is actually waiting for Kie. But as it is in other respects of the story too, director Yamada approaches this subject very subtle. His pictures are simple but great to look at, the characters are very vivid and you can sympathize with Katagiri at any point in time. "The Hidden Blade" can still be too slow-paced for those who aren't willing to get along with the movie's pacing. In fact Yamada's biggest strength is that he doesn't let you realize this flaw most of the time since his story builds up such an intensity that you are sitting at the edge of your seat. Furthermore, there are also some small surprises that make this quiet yet fondly touching drama as worthwhile as the other two movies of the series.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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