The Hidden Blade

Genre: Drama, Romance; Starring: Takako Matsu, Masatoshi Nagase, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Hidetaka Yoshioka; Director: Yoji Yamada; Author: Yoshitaka Asama, Yoji Yamada; Runtime (in minutes): 132; MPAA Rating: R; Distributor: Tartan

Of the many, many movies — the great, the splattery, the choreographed, the profound — that have explored the lives of samurai warriors, the dramas of 74-year-old Yoji Yamada may come closer than anyone’s to demystifying Japan’s feudal nomad swordsmen, portraying these lone-wolf aristocrats of honor not as mythical action figures but merely as regular, vulnerable folks, as men. Masatoshi Nagase, who you may recognize as one of the two Japanese Elvis fans in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, plays Katagiri, a stoic lower-caste samurai of the mid-19th century who is ordered by his clan to kill an old comrade. He wants no part of it, yet what we see (and he doesn’t) is that this thankless task is precisely what he needs to spur him past his reticence toward Kie (Takako Matsu), the family maid he’s in love with. The Hidden Blade is tranquil, touching, and, in its climactic sword fight, excitingly real.

Originally posted June 21 2006 — 12:00 AM EDT

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