The Hidden Blade

Veteran director Yoji Yamada's second samurai film is, like THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2003), adapted from short stories by Shuuhei Fujisawa, whose densely researched historical fiction focuses not on the court intrigues and military strategies of feudal Japan's powerful shoguns and clan leaders, but on the everyday lives of merchants, farmers and low-ranking...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Veteran director Yoji Yamada's second samurai film is, like THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2003), adapted from short stories by Shuuhei Fujisawa, whose densely researched historical fiction focuses not on the court intrigues and military strategies of feudal Japan's powerful shoguns and clan leaders, but on the everyday lives of merchants, farmers and low-ranking samurai. Also like TWILIGHT SAMURAI, it's set at the end of the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), as Western influences are changing Japan's traditional culture, and revolves around the household of the Unasaka clan. 1858: Ambitious samurai Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) moves to Edo (later Tokyo) to work for the powerful Tokugawa shogun, leaving behind his comrades Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) and Samon Shimada (Hidetaka Yoshioka). Katagiri, whose samurai father committed suicide years earlier — though personally blameless, he was honor-bound to accept responsibility for a financial scandal, — lives with his aging mother and airheaded younger sister, Shino (Tomoko Tabata), whom Shimada is courting. The Katagiri household is attended by an intelligent, kindhearted farm girl, Kie (Takako Matsu), whom Mrs. Katagiri (Chieko Baisho) has trained in the arts of household management and decorum. Katagiri clearly loves Kie, but her caste makes her an inappropriate match for even a low-level samurai, so she's married into a merchant family, the Iseyas. Three years later, Mrs. Katagiri has died and Katagiri remains unmarried; without a wife to attend his clothes and grooming he looks slightly unkempt, a violation of etiquette for a samurai attached to a respectable family. After learning that the Iseya family has systematically starved and overworked Kie, Katagiri removes her from their home and orders her husband to apply for a divorce; this breach of protocol raises eyebrows in the close-knit community. Meanwhile, the disgraced Hazama is returned to the Unasakas, accused of plotting treason, and compounds his shame by escaping. Katagiri is ordered to kill his old friend and is advised that serving his master (Ken Ogata) in this way will rehabilitate his sullied reputation. Casually paced and filled with telling detail, Yamada's delicate drama with swordplay (there's not much, but what there is packs an emotional wallop) transcends its specific setting in its depiction of Katagiri's internal struggle. Torn between personal and professional ethics, love and duty, honor and friendship, time-honored customs and inevitable change, his effort to balance conflicting demands without compromising his family's reputation or his own moral principles is all too familiar, even at the remove of half a world and 150 years.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Veteran director Yoji Yamada's second samurai film is, like THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2003), adapted from short stories by Shuuhei Fujisawa, whose densely researched historical fiction focuses not on the court intrigues and military strategies of feudal Japan'… (more)

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