A Hypnotic Samurai Film

Septuagenarian workaholic Yoji Yamada repeats the colon-cleansing he gave the samurai genre with the thoroughly grown-up, character-crucial winner The Twilight Samurai (2002), returning to the fading dusk of the samurai era, when artillery and modern military methods began to change the manner of war and render swordsman norms obsolete. From the beginning The Hidden Blade looks and feels more like a John Ford western than any other Asian film I've ever seen—without the tavern yuks and racism. Derived, as was Twilight, from a Shuuhei Fujisawa novel, the narrative has an inevitable but natural frontier logic, and boils down to the tender moral sphere of a low-level samurai (Masatoshi Nagase) pining for his family's maid (Takako Matsu), struggling with feudal class distinctions and the obligation to battle an old comrade gone renegade. The air of ethical crisis is hypnotic, and Yamada's decidedly undazzling yet expressive filmmaking approaches classicism. Supplements include on-set footage and trailers.

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