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The Hidden Blade (Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume)

A movie directed by Yôji Yamada.

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When the concern is self-serving "honor," then how easy it is for others to order you kill a friend

  • Mar 1, 2011
With Yoji Yamada's The Hidden Blade, set in the early 1860s, the age of the samurai was passing; the age of moviedom's bastardization of the samurai was sometime in the future. The Hidden Blade is one of three movies Yamada made based on stories by Shuhei Fujisawa. They all deal with the end of the rigid social caste system of the Tokugawa era, the cracks and corruption in the samurai code, and the effects of this on some of those in the samurai class whom we come to know. These movies aren't flash and slash epics or just cheap entertainment. The films in many ways are quiet, even when there is violence. Sadness and difficult choices are pervasive. The films, in other words, are wonderful. For the record, the three films are The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei) (2002), The Hidden Blade (Kakushi Ken Oni no Tsume) (2004) and Love and Honor (Bushi no Ichibun) (2006).
The Hidden Blade is the story of Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase), a poor samurai who does his duty to his clan in a small village in the north of Japan. His father was forced to commit hari kiri unjustly, but the father submitted because obeying the lord was the core of his life. A friend of Katagiri's, Yaichiro Hazama, who earlier went to Edo, has been implicated in a treason plot against the shogun. Hazama is sent back to the village for imprisonment. At the same time, Katagiri's sister has married a good friend, his mother has died, and he has found a merchant husband for the family's maid, a young woman named Kie (Takako Matsu), the daughter of a farmer who had been trained in many skills by Katagiri's mother. We can tell there is affection and respect between the two, but the idea of marriage is never recognized because of the rigid separation of the four castes. Katagiri rescues Kie from the cruel marriage but cannot keep her with him. He returns her to her farmer father.
When Hazama escapes, Katagiri is ordered to go to Hazama, one of his best friends, and kill him in a duel. Hazama is a fine swordsman. Katagiri is almost as good. Katagiri learns his clan's senior advisor is venal and dishonest. Katagiri must obey, but afterwards, in disgust, takes his own actions. At last he secures his future, whatever that might be...but it won't be as a samurai.
If this all sounds mundane, it is and it isn't. In slightly more than two hours, Yamada lets us see these people's lives, everything from the rigid strictures of behavior and outward respect to how a servant washes clothes, from how to cut firewood to what a prisoner basket is, from what a poor samurai's house is like or a merchant's fabric shop to what it takes to train barely educated bumpkin samurai in gunnery and marching. It's all fascinating, more so because these are all more-or-less ordinary people in a system of rigid class inequities, where people have few if any options. Yet if Munezo Katagiri's story is told deliberately, it is never slow. Yes, we have a great (and not flashy) sword fight toward the end of the movie, and a fast and satisfying act of deadly justice to witness. The heart, however, of the movie's tension comes from Karagiri's struggle to obey the old rules while realizing how unjust and corrupt they can be. Masatoshi Nagase gives a marvelous performance...thoughtful, serious, underplayed. The movie ends with a mutual expression of love and commitment between Katagiri and Kie that is delightful and touching.
One of the fascinating aspects of Japan is how rigidly enforced and how accepted the social order was, and then how quickly and, in some cases, how ruthlessly it crumbled. The samurai class, above the other three classes (farmers, craftsmen, merchants), was made up of warriors without wars. They sank into near irrelevance as they held tight their privileges and social status. The merchant class, lowest of the classes, rose to power because it produced nothing of value, in the Buddhist sense, just money. Money proved more powerful than swords.

By the end of The Hidden Blade it's clear that disciplined peasants bearing expensive firearms can take care of any charging, screaming, sword-bearing samurai they might encounter.
When the concern is self-serving When the concern is self-serving When the concern is self-serving

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More The Hidden Blade reviews
review by . October 31, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I usually like Asian cinema, and liked "Twilight," but I just wasn't crazy about "Hidden Blade." The movie is about pre-Meiji Japan and the rapidly changing role of the samurai (same time period as the The Last Samurai). However, I never really connected to the characters or the plot. It is also somewhat slow until the last 40 minutes.    The movie itself looks much older and drabber than something that came out only a few years ago. I loved other Japanese movies that portray …
review by . December 26, 2008
posted in ASIANatomy
Dvd cover
HIDDEN BLADE (a.k.a. Kakushi Ken Oni No Tsume) is the second chambara film by Yoji Yamada, who is not particularly well-known for his samurai films. However, there aren't too many directors during these modern times that mastered the art of chambara film-making as Yamada has in such a short time. After his award-winning hit; "Twilight Samurai", Director Yamada looks poised for more samurai fame. "Hidden Blade" has even been nominated for numerous international film awards even …
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C. O. DeRiemer ()
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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About this movie


The epic tale of munezo a samurai being displaced in a rapidly changing japan. After a failed political coup he is ordered to prove his innocence by finding & killing yaichiro a former friend samurai & brilliant swordsman. Munezo enlists the help of their old teacher who entrusts him with a secret technique. Studio: Genius Products Inc Release Date: 08/08/2006
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Director: Yôji Yamada
Genre: Foreign
Release Date: June 23, 2006
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: August 8, 2006
Runtime: 132 minutes
Studio: Tartan Video
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