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The Hidden Blade(2004)
An honest, low-ranking samurai, Munezo Katagiri finds himself buffeted by the confusion of old and new in mid-19th century Japan. Facing outside pressure, the Shogunate is trying to open Japan to the West and some carefully selected Western ways, while maintaining its fragile political base. Munezo, and his colleague Samon Shimada try to maintain their footing, paying heed to the demanding moral code of the samurai while also learning new military strategies, particularly the mastery of Western artillery. But Munezo also has a personal complication. He is secretly in love--so secretly, he may not even admit it to himself--with his family's maid, the sweet and beautiful country girl, Kie. His passion leads him to rescue Kie from a loveless marriage after she leaves his household; the samurai even shocks propriety by carrying away the low-caste young woman on his back. Just as Munezo starts to get his domestic situation in something to resembling order, Munezo hears devastating news. A comrade, Yaichiro Hazama, has been caught up in a plot in Edo. Their clan has sent the rebellious samurai home in the humiliating transport of a "prisoner's basket." Munezo comes under suspicion because he and Yaichiro, the clan's best swordsmen, shared a famed instructor, but Munezo refuses to cooperate with the chief retainer's witch hunt. Tension finally leads Munezo to confess his growing affection to Kie, a development that the young woman begins to hope will lead to the abandonment of caste structures. But before Munezo can realize his romantic destiny, Yaichiro escapes. Munezo is ordered to kill him, and the loyal, honorable samurai is faced with one final challenge to his principles.
For more about The Hidden Blade and the The Hidden Blade Blu-ray release, see the The Hidden Blade Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 3, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Sachiko Mitsumoto, Tomoko Tabata
Director: Yoji Yamada
» See full cast & crew
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 3, 2012
Winner of Japanese Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Yoji Yamada's "Kakushi ken oni no tsume" a.k.a "The Hidden Blade" (2004) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Palisades Tartan. The supplemental features on the disc include footage from the film's screening at the Berlin International Film Festival; behind the scenes featurette; press event with director Yoji Yamada; and original trailers for the film. In Japanese, with optional English and Spanish subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
19th Century Japan. Samurai Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase, Pistol Opera, The Sea is Watching) and Samon Shimada (Hidetaka Yoshioka, Railroad Man, Always - Sunset on Third Street) bid goodbye to their close friend Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Fireflies: River of Light, The Investigation Game), who is going to Edo to serve the powerful Unasaka clan.
Three years later. Munezo and Samon have started studying the new Western art of combat. Both have a difficult time understanding the lessons of their instructor but feel that times are changing. Munezo, in particular, is already convinced that it is only a matter of time before the samurai disappear.
One day, Munezo meets Kie (Takako Matsu, Suite Dreams, Confessions), a beautiful girl who used to work as a servant for his family. Kie has become a housewife but is treated as an animal by her husband and his family. When Munezo buys her a small gift, she immediately begins crying. Before they part ways, Munezo invites her to visit his home.
A couple of months later, Munezo is informed that Kie has fallen seriously ill. Despite Samon's warnings not to visit her while her husband is away, Munezo heads to Kie's home - and after he discovers that she has literally been abandoned by her husband's family in a cold and dark room, he carries her out, demanding that a divorce statement is prepared as soon as possible.
Kie gets better. She begins cleaning Munezo's house, washing his clothes and preparing some of his favorite dishes. She even recites beautiful poems to Munezo, which years ago his mother taught her.
Meanwhile, Hazama is brought back home in a cage. After years of service, he has been found guilty of conspiracy to kill the Shogun and denied the right to commit hara-kiri . When he manages to escape, the Senior Retainer (Ken Ogata, Vengeance Is Mine, The Pillow Book) asks Munezo to hunt down and kill his old friend Hazama.
A good companion piece to director Yoji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade tells two different stories. The first is about an impossible relationship. Munezo and Kie fall madly in love but because of their different social status - he is a low caste samurai while she is an ordinary girl - are forced to part ways.
The second story is about the end of an era. As Japan slowly opens up to the West, centuries-old canons and beliefs are challenged and gradually replaced, causing massive confusion amongst the samurai and their masters. Some recognize the fact that times are changing and they have to adjust, while others maintain that the old order has to be upheld.
The film builds slowly, allowing the viewer to get a good feel of the unusual atmosphere. Naturally, the samurai's struggles, even the ones that culminate with a few rather hilarious experiments and demonstrations, look authentic.
The finale is intense and effective but admittedly somewhat predictable. Nevertheless, the lack of showy machismo that typically plagues similarly themed period projects works to the film's advantage. The emphasis on detail is also quite impressive.
Note: In 2005, The Hidden Blade won Best Art Direction Award (Mitsuo Degawa and Yoshinobu Nishioka) at the Japanese Academy Awards.
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Yoji Yamada's The Hidden Blade arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Palisades Tartan.
The high-definition transfer appears to have been sourced from the same master Hong Kong-based distributors Panorama had access to when they prepared their Blu-ray release. Naturally, the two look practically identical.
The film has a very unique look - it favors soft and warm colors and boasts a light yellowish tint. Light is often restricted and many of the indoor sequences look quite dark (see screencaptures #2 and 10). As I mentioned in our review of the Hong Kong release, there are clearly traces of mild filtering, but it is very difficult to tell how much of it was not intended to enhance the film's unique period look. The restricted light and the warm and subdued colors clearly point to a specific dated look (coincidentally, Yoji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai also favors very soft and natural colors). Edge-enhancement is not a serious issue of concern. There are no serious banding or aliasing patterns either. Lastly, there are no damage marks, cuts, or debris. All in all, I feel that the film could look better, but it is also quite clear to me that very specific stylistic corrections have been performed to achieve its unique look. With that in mind, I think that the presentation is indeed quite good. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Palisades Tartan have provided optional English and Spanish subtitles for the main feature.
The lossless track is effective, but it will not test your audio system. It opens up the film during selected sequences, but Isao Tomita's score does add to the atmosphere as much as I was expecting it would. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and easy to follow. There are no high-frequency distortions or audio dropouts to report in this review. The English translation is very good.
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I am very happy to see that this beautiful period film is now available on Blu-ray in North America. I think that it is one of only a select few contemporary samurai films in which style and substance are very well balanced. If this month you are planning to add The Samurai Trilogy to your collections, consider purchasing The Hidden Blade as well. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Hidden Blade Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Hidden Blade Blu-ray - March 20, 2012
Independent distributors Palisades Tartan have revealed that they are preparing a Blu-ray release of Japanese director Yôji Yamada's award winning film The Hidden Blade (2004), starring Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu and Hidetaka Yoshioka. The preliminary release ...
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