In my opinion director Yoji Yamada
s The Hidden Blade was clearly the best Asian film in the main competition in this years Berlin Film Festival.
The directors previous film The Twilight Samurai was shown both in Berlin two years ago, and it was also nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film. The Twilight Samurai was based on stories by Shuhei Fujisawa and so is The Hidden Blade.
Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) is a very low ranking samurai living on a stipend of 30 koku (bales of rice) a year. In the household is the beautiful young servant girl Kie (Takako Matsu), who also is both intelligent and funny and it is no wonder that Munezo starts falling in love with her. But as he considers her untouchable because of the class difference, he concentrates on securing a good marriage for her.
When he later finds out, that she is being mistreated and becomes severely ill because of that, he brings her back to his house. This causes much comment, and of course she cannot stay once she is well again.
The day of the samurai is about over new western ways are slowly being introduced. Munezos clan has bought both rifles and cannons. We see some very funny scenes, when the samurai are being taught these newfangled devices.
But the old samurai sense of honor is still intact at least in some samurai. Munezos old friend Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) is being accused of treason and Munezo is ordered to kill him. Solving that dilemma while still keeping his honor is a major test for Munezo.
I really liked The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade has the same feel, but has added humor and lightheartedness in several scenes, which in my opinion is a plus. What the two films have in common is the gritty, realistic feel. The poor samurai looks poor, their clothes are torn and shabby and their houses are no palaces. The heroes in both films are the thoughtful type they seem to think that women and servants are people and not just chattel. This is quite unusual for the time, and one of the things that make these films worth watching.
Even though The Hidden Blade has a very nice action scene, it is not an action film just like The Twilight Samurai. Instead I would call these two films social realistic samurai films. Beautifully photographed films with thoughtful social commentary are what you should expect.
Yoji Yamada has added a whole new dimension to the samurai film. May he continue to do so.