September 11, 2006

DVD Review: The Hidden Blade

The Hidden Blade is a beautiful film about a noble samurai near the end of the feudal period. He is a man of low samurai ranking, and is finding many aspects of his life being questioned in the fast changing world. The changes affect him in a profound way, from his personal life, to his respect for the way of the samurai.

The film does not move very fast, and in that regard I did have some trouble staying with it as it it takes some time before the story comes into focus. There are a couple of threads that weave their way through the film. Both of them have Munezo Katagiri at their center. First there is the feelings that Munezo has for Kie, a girl from a lower caste, unfit to be a samurai's wife, and her mistreatment at the hands of her husband. The other sees the return of an old friend to his life, but in a vastly different way than he had left.

The world is changing in ways that Katagiri and those like him are being left behind. While he struggles to deal with his bachelor life, and his feelings for Kie, he and his fellow samurai are being forced to switch from the sword to the weapons of the West. A teacher from one of the larger towns has come to instruct them in the ways of the gun, and a new way of running. This leads to some rather humorous sequences.

As troubling as the new weapons are to Katagiri, he seems to take solace in returning home to Kie, after he saves her from her abusive relationship. That is, until the town starts to talk. The relationship is subtle, never do they come out and state their feelings for each other. This would not be in line with the codes and traditions of the time, things that he holds very dear.

As if he did not have enough troubles in his life, Katagiri is chosen to face off with his old friend, Hazama, who is an escaped prisoner, after being discovered plotting against the Shogunate. This, and the holier than though attitudes of the upper class clan members who hand down their choice, bring Katagiri to a crossroads, where he questions his way of life and if those above him respect the traditions.

The Hidden Blade is a film that moves at a methodical pace. Everything is calculated, every movecarefully considered. This helps to give the film a beauty, a tapestry through which the stories weave, with well developed surrounding characters and some gorgeous cinematography. The pacing also leads to some negatives, as I struggled to pick up the story early on. It takes its time to set up the period and everything around our lead character before the story threads take complete hold.

Video. The disk looks good, if a bit muted. Occasionally panning leads to a little blurring, but for the most part, this disk looks quit good. The image is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio. The soundtrack is presented in its original Japanese in Dolby Digital 5.1. The disk sound svery good, and the score comes across beautifully. Nothing to complain about here.

  • Behind the Scenes with Direcotr Yoji Yamada. This runs for nearly 20 minutes and shows Yamada directing on the set, and some sword fighting proparation, and prop selection. It is interesting, if a little choppy.
  • Berlin Film Festival Premiere. This goes through the premiere in Germany, with discussion of what it was like to be back after the Twilight Samurai premiere.
  • Yoji Yamada Press Conference. This is an interview with Yamada about the film.
  • Trailers. Both the US and Japanese trailers are included.

Bottomline. A beautiful, if slightly sluggish, film concerning the end of an era and the affects it has on people who have no control over it. This is definitely one to see.

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