August 11, 2006

The Hidden Blade

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Yes, some Samurai action does figure in The Hidden Blade but action lovers best be warned that this mostly quiet, thoughtful and lovely movie is more about justice, kindness, decency and - especially - love. Call it a classy chick flick with some swordplay. Director and co-writer Yoji Yamada has now made nearly 100 films (including the recent Twilight Samurai). His new one steeps you in the time and habits of 1800s Japan, as western influence - particularly in weaponry - was beginning to assert itself. At the outset, we meet three samurai: one of them leaves for fame and fortune elsewhere, and we remain behind with the family of one of other two, watching as love grows between master and servant, and the story twines around loss, politics (particularly greedy incompetent overlords). Though lengthy, the movie is never slow or uninteresting because the scenes of daily life are filled with such fascinating detail and the plot strands come together gracefully and believably. While Yamada integrates all his themes beautifully, it is the love story that attains most impact: Here is a film that demonstrates what real love is - how it grows and survives against heavy odds - about as well as any I've seen. The swordplay arrives rather far along: a riveting and suspenseful climactic battle and a denouement featuring the blade of the title that is quietly shocking. Despite some violence and a bit of gore, I'll bet most women will love this film. Men - along for the fights and thrills - may learn a number of useful things about communication and caring in a foreign culture that applies quite well to our own. The Hidden Blade, a very special movie, was nominated for multiple Japanese Academy awards. Though it won only for its art direction and actresses, it's hard to imagine anything topping it in the other realms.

More reading: Samurai primer >>

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Posted by cphillips at August 11, 2006 11:34 AM | TrackBack

Yamada's Hidden Blade is indeed a lovely film, and every bit as fine as Twilight Samurai. Yamada recently finished filming the final installment of this trilogy, Bushi no ichibuna (One-Line Samurai), yet another tale about an unfortunate samurai. All three films are based on stories by Shuhei Fujisawa.

Posted by: kenji at August 17, 2006 12:36 PM