Movie Review of The Hidden Blade (Japan 2004)

Genre - Drama, Action
**ing - Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu and Hidetaka Yoshioka
Release - 2004

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Oscar nominated The Twilight Samurai, the first installment of Yoji Yamada's acclaimed Samurai Trilogy. Nearly as brilliant, The Hidden Blade bears a strong resemblance to it's predecessor that is not merely limited to the similar art-house production values and style and authentic portrayal of a simple Samurai's life, but also in it's plot elements. The movie received an impressive 12 Japanese Academy Awards nominations, but unfortunately only won for it's superb art-direction. It was also nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.The Hidden Blade stars Masatoshi Nagase as Munezo Katagiri, a lowly 50 koku Samurai with a simple existence but a strong belief and respect for the Samurai code. Set in 1860s, the backdrop presents a shifting preference towards western arms and ammunition as part of military tactics, from the more traditional Sword and arrows based Samurai warfare. Yamada portrays the transformation with great authenticity and it also provides some of the film's rare humor as the proud samurai struggle to learn the basics of western rifles and canons. One of the funniest moments is when a Edo based instructor challenges a Samurai to race to prove the superiority of western running style with raised knees and arm movements, as opposed to 'squatty' running style of the Samurais. 

This was also a period of treachery and secret mutiny's against the lords and the Shogunate as Japan approach the era of Meiji restoration. Katagiri finds himself in a moral dilemma when he's ordered by the clan to kill a old friend who was accused of rebellion and treachery. But the soul of the film is Katagiri's subdued love interest for his beautiful and noble maid kei (Takako Matsu), whom he rescues from her abusive husband and in-laws. But his Samurai code prevents him from proposing marriage to a member of a different class, as such an event was frowned upon by the Japanese culture of stringent class system. Takako Matsu is brilliant as the noble Kei; especially if you have seen her contrasting performance as a cold and calculated avenger of her young child's murder in 2010 Oscar nominated Confessions (Kokuhaku)

Yoji Yamada yet again succeeds in creating a authentic and demystifying portrayal of a Samurai. Though the story-line maintains a slightly more cheerful tone (or less depressive depending on one's perspective) compared to The Twilight Samurai, it's characters are equally captivating and affect a moving story. And much like Twilight Samurai, Katagiri finds his redemption with his skills with the blade and his code of honor. Though the final moments of the film could be called a fairy-tale ending, it doesn't feel forced and maintains the credibility and realism as with the rest of the movie. 

The Hidden blade succeeds as another Yoji Yamada Samurai classic that is tranquil yet moving, and captivates with exciting moments, great direction and performances.