The Hidden Blade

Rated NR 2006

In the follow-up to his 2002 crowd-pleaser The Twilight Samurai, veteran director Yoji Yamada returns to feudal Japan in the 1860s for a beautifully photographed but occasionally inert study of a proud late-era samurai (Masatoshi Nagase) who's secretly fallen in love with a servant girl (Takako Matsu) unhappily married to an abusive merchant. Thwarted by caste tradition, the couple remains largely frustrated. But the duty-bound hero gets satisfaction in some comparatively restrained swordplay that erupts amid an anti-government plot. Meanwhile, modern firearms and artillery pieces have come to Japan, which gives the limited samurai action here the bittersweet air of elegy. More contemplative than bloody, the entire film is lovely to look at, but Yamada buffs in the Western Hemisphere may find it less taut and dramatic than its predecessor. It has been adapted, as The Twilight Samurai was, from short stories by the eminent Japanese fictioneer Shuhei Fujisawa.

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