The Hidden Blade


The Hidden Blade

隠し剣 鬼の爪 Kakushi ken oni no tsume

Screenplay by Yôji Yamada & Yoshitaka Asama

Based on stories by Shûhei Fujisawa

Cinematography by Mutsuo Naganuma

Art Direction: Yoshinobu Nishioka

Costumes by Kazuko Kurosawa

Editing by Iwao Ishii

Music by Isao Tomita

Produced by Hiroshi Fukazawa

Directed by Yôji Yamada



Masatoshi Nagase

Takako Matsu

Hidetaka Yoshioka

Yukiyoshi Ozawa

Tomoko Tabata

Reiko Takashima

Kunie Tanaka

Production Studio:

Theatrical: Shochiku

Video: Palisades Tartan


Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD25

Feature Size: 19.63  GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 24 Mbps)

Runtime: 132 minutes

Chapters: 15

Region: A

Audio: Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH

Extras: (SD)

• Behind the Scenes (16:10)

  1. Berlin Film Festival Premier (8:40)

  2. Director Press Conference (6:00)

• Japanese Theatrical Trailer

• U.S. Theatrical Trailer


Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD x 1 + DVD copy

Street Date: June 19, 2012

The Movie: 8

Critical Response:

The Village Voice

An all but unknown quantity in North America, septuagenarian workaholic Yoji Yamada appeared on our doorstep two years ago with Twilight Samurai (2002), which was only the 66th feature in a filmography dominated by the 46 romantic comedies in the contemporary "Tora-San" series. A radical departure for him and for the Japanese imports we see, Twilight is a mature, brooding, revisionist samurai epic, executed with unpretentious expertise. . . Yamada's 19th-century shogun functionaries are haunted less by honor and courage than clan politics, financial problems, managerial humiliation, and prescripted [sic] hara-kiri. . .


Derived, as was Twilight, from a Shuuhei Fujisawa novel, [Hidden Blade’s] narrative has an inevitable but natural frontier logic, and boils down to the tender moral sphere of Munezo (Masatoshi Nagase), a low-level samurai pining for his family's maid Kie (Takako Matsu). Again, nothing is as ruinous in the social fabric as feudal class distinctions. As his clan slowly struggles with the adoption of gun warfare, Munezo watches Kie get married away, and then learns a few years on that she is a slave in her new home, sickly and abused. Worrisomely violating the first of many conduct codes, Munezo charges in and rescues her; back at the homestead, Kie's nursed back to health and again becomes the family's servant. . .

Yamada's decidedly undazzling yet expressive filmmaking approaches classicism, from a sensei training session captured in one lengthy shot to the final showdown, seen with shifting points of view that suggest a relativist unease with the cut-and-dried judgments of war culture. - Michael Atkinson


San Francisco Chronicle

In his latest effort, Yamada weaves an irresistible love story - in which class differences are a barrier to desire - into his saga of soldiers whose rigorous training is on the verge of becoming obsolete. A samurai comes to a backwater of Japan decked out in a Western-style suit to teach his comrades how to fire modern artillery. Given rudimentary instruction, they're the gang that can't shoot straight. A scene of these warriors in heavy kimonos, their trusty swords wrapped around the waist and tied in front, attempting to march like British soldiers with their legs lifted high is simultaneously comical and profoundly sad. The camera lingers on their tortured faces, revealing the one emotion they are never supposed to show -- shame.


Yamada, who co-wrote the screenplay with Yoshitaka Asama, humanizes the film by focusing on one conflicted warrior, Muzeno, subtly played by Masatoshi Nagase (the ardent Elvis fan in Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train''). Nagase establishes Muzeno's sensitivity in an early scene where he shows concern over what will become of a fellow samurai, Yaichiro (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), who's been deployed to a distant big city. His fears are realized when Yaichiro is arrested for plotting against his superiors and returned to his village in a cage unfit for animals. Because the two old friends trained under the same revered swordsman, Muzeno is ordered to track down Yaichiro, who's escaped from a local prison, and kill him in a duel. Muzeno's assignment leads to exquisitely choreographed action scenes. His yearning for the family maid, Kie (Takako Matsu), is exquisite in an entirely different way. As an aristocrat, Muzeno can't even consider expressing his love to this lowly country girl. The regret he feels when she marries someone closer to her own class turns into horror after Muzeno learns her husband treats her like an indentured slave. He becomes determined to do something about it. 

Nagase and Matsu are terrific at portraying sublimated passion. The actress does it with her eyes, which seem to shine more brightly when Kie's protector comes to call.  "The Hidden Blade'' is exquisite to look at. Seeing shots of snow falling, the whiteness of each flake almost blinding, and of delicate cherry blossoms, you understand the inspiration for generations of Japanese screen painters. - Ruthie Stein

If Twilight Samurai was meant in part to deconstruct the samurai film as a genre, then The Hidden Blade takes that attitude to the next level by introducing two elements not fully explored in the previous film - the idea that faithful samurai were forced to due the bidding of corrupt officials and the effect that Western firearms had on the samurai way of life. Whereas Twilight Samurai innovatively focused its attention on the home life of a lowly, but noble samurai with a family to support, The Hidden Blade centers on a more traditional figure in the chambara film - the lone swordsman of samurai legend. However, this lone wolf isn't a ronin, but a faithful vassal, one who has never killed before and is about to come to a crossroads in his life, as he begins to wonder if the samurai way really is all that it's cracked up to be. - Calvin McMillin


Image: 6/7

Image quality in absolute terms is very much on the soft side, with many scenes, outdoors especially, that strike us as too bright and/or too flat.  In fact, there is little to choose between this new Blu-ray from Tartan and the original Shochiku DVD.  The blu-ray has marginally better control of contrast, where highlights are not as easily blown out and it has slightly boosted black levels for improved contrast - which is not to say it looks any more like the theatrical presentation.  I confess I’ve never seen this film in the theater and can’t say what it is supposed to look like.  I can only say that the Blu-ray (like the Japanese Region 2 DVD before it) is not a particularly rewarding high-definition experience.


Audio: 8/8

Like the Blu-ray image, the Japanese language (not “English” as your remote will indicate) DTS-HD MA 5.1, will not grab your attention - nor should it.  Instead, the sound design is naturalistic allowing for acoustical spaces to be realized, rustling tall grass and running water to be discerned, dialogue to be clear and a cannon shot to have some bite, but never made vivid for the sake of “audio.”  All the same don’t be surprised if you image you can hear snow falling.  One note of caution: Tartan’s introductory logo is cut at a deafening volume compared to the feature film.


Extras: 3

The extras are few, short, and in standard definition and, as they were in Tartan’s earlier DVD, subtitled.  The 16-minute “Behind the Scenes with Director Yôji Yamada focuses on a single scene and looks at how it was considered in terms of character and story.

Recommendation: 7

If you already have the Region 2 Japanese Shochiku DVD, you would have be a very ardent loyalist to purchase what is only a slight upgrade.  I think the Blu-ray does improve on the Tartan DVD, however, especially in motion.  If you don’t already have The Hidden Blade on video, you should, and this Tartan is the best available for the foreseeable future.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 17, 2011

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