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The Hidden Blade
cast: Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, and Tomoko Tabata

director: Yoji Yamada

132 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Japan is opening up to outside influences, and the samurai are learning to use artillery and European-style battle tactics. Different opinions on the pace of reform lead to power struggles in high places, but this barely touches the life of low-ranking rural samurai Katagiri and his brother-in-law Samon. Already disgraced by his father's suicide over false allegations of fraud, Katagiri risks his honour to rescue Kie, the family's former servant girl, now married into a merchant family and being worked to death. Though their feelings for each other are obvious, a samurai cannot marry a servant, and the broken-hearted Kie eventually returns to her parents. But when Katagiri is asked to kill a renegade warrior whose was once his best friend, the situation exposes the hypocrisy of his masters and the shallowness of the samurai code, and forces him to finally confront his real feelings...

Despite having almost exactly the same plot as The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade (aka: Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume) is very much its own movie, far more critical of the feudal system and the strains that class and social boundaries place upon individuals. Restrained emotions simmer under the daily rituals of life, small actions become hugely significant. On one level, very little happens - this is certainly not an action movie, though the final confrontations are beautifully staged - yet the delicately drawn relationships are captivating.

A hugely satisfying love story that exposes the frailties of a dying society, The Hidden Blade is not only bound to please samurai movie fans, but would be a good place to start if you haven't yet caught up with the samurai genre. It's a terrific movie that I highly recommend.

DVD extras: trailer, and the Tartan films trailer reel.

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