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 ...
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Kanichiro Yoshimura is a Samurai and Family man who can no longer support his wife and children on the the low pay he receives from his small town clan, he is forced by the love for his ... See full summary »
During a downpour, a generous ronin and his supporting wife are stranded at a country inn. The ronin comes to the attention of a lord who wants to hire him as an instructor for his men, who treat the ronin with disrespect.
An tale of revenge, honor and disgrace, centering on a poverty-stricken samurai who discovers the fate of his ronin son-in-law, setting in motion a tense showdown of vengeance against the house of a feudal lord.
A talented but troubled Edo Period swordsman, Kanemi Sanzawmon. Three years earlier, Kanemi killed a woman, Renko, the corrupt mistress of the powerful daimyo Tabu Ukyou. Unexpectedly, ... See full summary »
The mother of a feudal lord's only heir is kidnapped away from her husband by the lord. The husband and his samurai father must decide whether to accept the unjust decision, or risk death to get her back.
February 17 to March 3, 1860, inside Edo castle. A group of assassins wait by Sakurada Gate to kill the lord of the House of Ii, a powerful man in the Tokugawa government, which has ruled ... See full summary »
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 ... Written by
Individuals vs. Society Beautifully Portrayed in the Closing Age of Samurai
"The Hidden Blade (Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume)" is filmed in a deceptively old-fashioned and leisurely style to make pointed observations of Japanese society, much as "Far From Heaven" did for the U.S.
Director/co-writer Yôji Yamada again adapts Shuuhei Fujisawa stories as he did so beautifully in "Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei)". Taking place just a few years before Hollywood's "The Last Samurai", this feels like a rebuke and response to that very Westernized interpretation of some of the same issues of how changes in military technology impacted feudalism and imperialism, as well as visually referencing many classic Japanese samurai films, but from a more individualized point of view then Kurosawa, Kobayashi or Inagaki
The first half of the film establishes the complicated domestic life and frustrating work of the struggling samurai (a solid and sympathetic Masatoshi Nagase, channeling Toshirô Mifune). The broadly comic scenes of fumbled rifles and cannon training recall similarities with the "Sharpe" TV series of the just a bit earlier Napoleonic wars. Particularly lovely are household hearth scenes of warmth between generations and between master and servants.
But this is not the idyllic village where Tom Cruise sojourned, as darker abuse is revealed and the samurai flaunts rigid social protocols to do right by those he cares for, especially the young maid "Kie" (Takako Matsu channeling the three little maids from "The Mikado" a bit too much). He is slow to reveal emotions or take action (the romance goes beyond Jane Austen in its cross-caste sidling and very slow resolution), suppressing vivid childhood memories we see very briefly in flashbacks in contrast to his voluble friend who rebels, including against traditional suicide.
The emphasis throughout the film is on generational conflict, as elders who are to be venerated are constantly shown to be fools or much worse -- old uncles complain about younger people (whose names they can't keep straight) using the new Western weapons, but place a higher priority on eating; a mother-in-law viciously mistreats her daughter-in-law to increase profits; a corrupt senior retainer (the feudal titles do not seem well-translated in the subtitles) lies and manipulates while enjoying geishas and complaining about his prostate problems. But a teacher derided as a "crazy old man" who can still best the young swordsman passes on more useful stealth techniques than the martinet drill sergeant who has inherited the honorific "sensei" with his British guns.
While as usual in such films, I simply cannot follow the Byzantine shogun politics even with a superfluous narration, as I've never studied Japanese political history, the second half ironically builds on the iconography of the genre with unusual sights and sounds. Macho conflicts are filmed voyeuristically, with sidling camera angles that indicate a passing from mano a mano duels to the anonymity of modern weapons, and thus justifying the use of the titular vengeance.
The exquisite cinematography and sound design create a special environment. With a look of faded epic cinematography like the passing of an age, we see snow falling on parasols, cherry blossoms on the path and rain fall on unrequited love. We hear them too, as the breezes, wind, crickets, birds, rain and the household sounds of tools and crackling fire punctuate long silences and dominate more than the conventionally soaring score that is used judiciously. But a prison and eventual bloody fights in a heavily symbolic fog are not minimalized.
The production design is much more elaborate in showing us traditional architecture than most such Japanese films.
I'm sure some of the social and historical commentary just goes by a Western audience unfamiliar with particulars, but the themes of individuals caught up in social proscriptions who rebel and seek love, respect, peace and, most of all, control over their lives is universal and very involving.
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