(aka 'The Hidden Blade" or "Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume')

Directed by Yoji Yamada
Japan 2004

Most famous as the helmer of the Japanese movie institution ‘Tora-san’ – a 48-film series of nostalgic comedy-dramas that ran from 1969 to 1995 – the septuagenarian Yamada Yoji is evidently not afraid of repeating himself. His latest samurai melodrama, the highly enjoyable ‘Hidden Blade’, reworks many of the same themes and narrative forms of his recent Oscar-nominated ‘Twilight Samurai’, but it’s so fluently directed, well acted and emotionally satisfying that its lack of originality can be forgiven.

On the whole, however, Yamada does not succumb to stylistic flourish. Mutsuo Naganuma’s fine period cinematograpy is typically unostentatious and the climactic, cathartic action sequences are notable for their own form of realism: when Munezo is instructed by a corrupt senior retainer to kill an old friend, sentenced to a fate worse than hara-kiri for his Western-ising views, their confrontation is filmed to emphasise our quiet hero’s deep ambivalence toward violence. It’s old-fashioned fare, certainly, but only Isao Tomita’s string-based score rams that home.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film located HERE

  ***

Synopsis: During the time of change of the mid-19th Century, Yaichiro is bid farewell by his fellow samurai friends Munezo and Samon as he leaves their clan's fiefdom on the northwest coast of Japan (Unasaka) to take an important position within the shogunate in far away Edo. Munezo has lived modestly with his mother and sister Shino after his father was forced into suicide after the failure of a bridge project. Kie, a farm girl serves them as a maid in their house. As time passes, Munezo's sister marries Samon, his mother dies, Kie is married into a merchant family, and he is required to learn western methods of warfare such as the use of artillery and firearms from an official sent from Edo. Learning that Kie is ill due to abuse, he rescues her from her husband's family. Although sharing mutual affection and respect, a marriage between Munezo and Kie is still impossible due to different castes, and when he, now a bachelor, is criticized for her serving in his house, Munezo sends her back to her father's farm. After being caught in a failed political intrigue, Yaichiro is sent home in disgrace and imprisoned in solitary confinement. After Yaichiro escapes, Munezo is ordered to prove his innocence from complicity by killing his old friend, and he seeks the help of his old teacher, the sword master Kansai Toda. Although Yaichiro had been the better swordsman when they studied together, Toda entrusted the secret of the "Hidden Blade" only to Munezo. Toda now teaches him a new technique to use as he prepares to face Yaichiro, who has taken hostages in a farm house.

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Theatrical Release: October 30th, 2004

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DVD Review: Tartan - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Tartan Video - Region 1 - NTSC

The Japanese edition of the film is regarded as having the best transfer. It IS progressive, anamorphic and includes optional English subtitles...

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Runtime 2:11:56 
Video 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.15 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0), Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Japanese (DTS 5.1 ES) 
Subtitles English, Spanish, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Tartan Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1

Edition Details:

• Behind the Scenes With Yoji Yamada (16:11)
• Berlin Film Festival Premiere (8:44)
• Yoji Yamada Press Conference (6:05)
• Trailers

DVD Release Date: August 8th, 2006

Keep Case
Chapters: 18

 

Comments:

This image is fairly unremarkable with a slight yellow/greenish haze to many of the scenes. The non-progressive transfer brings out the lack of detail which becomes less prominent while watching on a tube. The anamorphic picture is fairly tight to the frame edges. Colors seem accurate but slightly washed-out - certainly not of the caliber of a film made in 2004. There are optional English or Spanish subtitles but they are fairly high on the screen - translation appears quite acceptable.

I'm a big Yoji Yamada fan (see The Yoji Yamada Collection review HERE) and appreciated the extras - a Behind the Scenes 16 minute featurette, a look at the Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and a 6 minute press conference with Yamada. It would have been nice to have a commentary on this film, but perhaps in a future edition. I prefer Yamada's simple social dramas, but this had his gentle style floating throughout many scenes as well. 

Gary W. Tooze

 





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DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

Distribution Tartan Video - Region 1 - NTSC

The Japanese edition of the film is regarded as having the best transfer. It IS progressive, anamorphic and includes optional English subtitles...

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...




 

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Gary Tooze

Mississauga, Ontario,

   CANADA

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