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May 27, 2006

The Hidden Blade


Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume
Yoji Yamada - 2004
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

Seeing how inconsistent theatrical distribution is for foreign language films, especially here in Miami Beach, I chose to see The Hidden Blade on DVD. If you live in a major city where the film will be shown theatrically next month, it is worth seeing on the big screen. Yoji Yamada's film can be seen as a continuation of some of the themes of Twilight Samurai, but can also be appreciated by those who have not seen that earlier film.

Unlike a big budget American film that came out a couple of years ago, this is the real "Last Samurai". Taking place mostly in 1861, the film is a study on the destruction of samurai culture. The conflicts illustrated are how social protocols were maintained based on traditions, and how members of the warrior class had to face being anachronisms with guns replacing swords. One scene shows the frustrated teacher of gun warfare yelling at the samurai to stop the practice of bowing while trying to load a cannon.

The title refers to a sword-fighting technique of striking the opponent when one's back is turned towards him. The hidden blade is also a small knife used for murder and buried near the grave of a former samurai's wife. Yamada is more interested though in showing details of the mundane life of a samurai. The main character, Munezo, points out that while he has trained in swordfighting, he has actually never had to use his sword. Yamada also investigates how the class system was still in effect in Japan, keeping would-be lovers Munezo and Kie apart through enforced social positions.

The contemplative feeling of the film is set by the score of Isao Tomita, and a screen of changing solid colors. While Masatoshi Nagase carries the dramatic arc of the narrative as Munezo, Takako Matsu as Kie is the heart of Yamada's film. First heard off-screen, Yamada delights in photographing Takako in close-up, smiling and politely fighting the urge to burst out laughing. Yamada has made a truly romantic film about a chaste couple with impeccable manners.

Posted by peter at May 27, 2006 04:09 PM