Tag Archives: samurai

On the road… to Golgotha

Hasekura Rokuemon (1571-1622), the titular samurai of Endô Shusakü’s 1980 novel is a middle-aged, low-rank (likened to a lance corporal) samurai, with no experience of battle, who is placed in nominal charge of a delegation of four envoys and some merchants dispatched to New Spain (later Mexico) in the second decade of the 17th century (C.E.). They are not representing the shogun (the newly dominant Tokugawa one, Ieyasu) or the emperor but a lord (daimyô) from Tohoku in northern Honshu, Shiraishi, who tells his envoys, “In the land of the foreigners, the ways of life will probably be different from those here in Japan. You must not cling to Japanese customs if they stand in the way of your mission. If that which is white in Japan is black in the foreign lands, consider it black. Even if you remain unconvinced in your heart, you must wear a look of acquiescence on your face.”

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Having traveled to Acapulco, then overland to the capital (Mexico City), they learn that no decisions about trade or other relations with Japan can be made by the viceroy there, so they journey on to Vera Cruz, then across another ocean to Madrid. There, they learn from the king (Felipe III) that the pope (Paul V) must be consulted. The samurai and the three envoys still with him consent to be baptized in order to be received in the Vatican (that is, their “conversion” is policy, not motivated by belief in Christianity) They attain an audience with the pope in Rome, but nothing is resolved, and they return by the same route they had taken eastward.

While they were gone, Japan has closed itself off again. Hasekura has become a true believer, but even the nominal baptisms are viewed as treasonable in their xenophobic homeland. And the diplomatic/trade mission being back with them a Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Velasco. He seems more jesuitical than Franciscan to me, though he battles with the Jesuits who had already established a toehold in Japan. Father Velasco is exceedingly vain, ambitious, manipulative, and lacking in scruples or doubts in his understanding of a very alien culture. He seeks to be named Bishop of Japan, but attains a spectacular martyrdom (before those missionaries who Endô portrayed in The Silence).

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Endô himself had a sojourn in Europe (to study French Catholic writers), and much of his fiction that I like most involves Japanese outside Japan (Deep River,Japanese in Warsaw). Most of it concerned the incompatibilities between Japanese culture and Christian faith that he grappled with himself. The Jesuit debating Velasco sounds recurrent Endô themes:

“The Japanese basically lack a sensitivity to anything that is absolute, to anything that transcends the human level, to the existence of anything beyond the realm of Nature: what we should call the supernatural. I finally realized that after thirty years there as a missionary. It was a simple matter to teach them that this life is transitory. They have always been sensitive to that aspect of life. The frightening thing is that the Japanese also have a capacity to accept and even relish the evanescence of life. This capacity is so profound that they actually revel in that knowledge, and have written many verses inspired by that emotion. Yet the Japanese make no attempt to leap beyond it. They abhor the idea of making clear distinctions between man and God. To them, even if there should be something greater than man, it is something which man himself can one day become. Their Buddha, for instance, is a being which man can become once he abandons his illusions. Even Nature, which for us is something totally detached from man, to them is an entity that envelops mankind. We…we failed in our attempts to rectify these attitudes of theirs.”

The Holy Mother Church does not come off well in Samurai, but Hasekura’s faith and, ultimately, Father Velasco’s willingness to die for it are treated with respect.

BTW, the historical Hasekura Rokuemon died within two years of his return to Japan in 1620, but was not executed. And Endô has the Spanish priest speak directly (i.e., Velasco’s first person), but not the Japanese convert (i.e., third person narrative for Hasekura). There is little “local color” in Mexico and Europe in Endô’s novel about Christian faith, and no swordplay (or spearplay) contrary to the cover images..

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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A Reluctant Ronin Avenger: Koreeda’s “Hana”

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In the first decade of the 21st century there were a number of movies about low-level samurai and ronin (masterless samurai) in the last years Japan of the Pax Tokugawa (1603-1868) who maintained a warrior honor code with privileges that were no longer related to the social function of giving and taking lives during warfare. There were still factions jockeying for power and occasions for lethal swordplay, but no invasions or wars of imperial conquest. What were those of hereditary samurai descent to do, particularly those lacking a master and position within a feudal hierarchy (ronin)? Doing business was beneath them, and in addition to lacking any land to till, farming was beneath them. Peasants worked to support the lords and retainers (and priests).

In Koreeda Hirokazu’s “Hana Yori mo Naho” (or just “Hana” Flower, 2006) a young samurai, Soza (Okada Junichi from the boy band V6]) has come to Edo (now Tokyo) to find and kill the man who killed Soza’s father. Soza is not much of a swordsman and not remotely bellicose. He prefers playing go (a samurai pastime) and bathing to practicing martial arts. He has a vocation (at the personal rather than caste level) as a teacher and is a surrogate father to the son of a woman, Osae (Miyazawa Rie), who lives near his hovel in what the subtitles call “row houses.” Her husband has fled and is probably dead. De facto and in all probability, she is a widow, but Soza does not attempt to bed her.

Soza finds his father’s killer, a fearsome-looking laborer played by Asano Tadanobu (who played the young Genghis Khan in “Mongol” and the romantic lead in “Last Life in the Universe”). Soza would rather teach the man’s stepson than try to enact the vengeance that is his Mission.

Soza and others in the nagaya (tenement neighborhood), including Kimura Yuichi (star of “Tokyo Sonata,” here playing the village idiot) put on a festival drama about vengeance. This twice gives way too more serious actions (plot-spoilers avoided).

A side plot I found quite confusing involved a druggist (Terajima Susumu) with whom Soza plays go, and three disguised samurai (ronin) who are seemingly talking idly about avenging their master. The turns out to be an oblique take on a very famous Japanese story, but intersects so little with Soza’s story that I think is distraction that is not needed in a movie that runs 127 minutes. None of the characters develops over the course of the long movie, though several reveal somewhat unexpected sides.

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The movie could not be accused of celebrating bloody revenge. It even has a parody of seppuku (hara-kiri), as well as samurai who are cowards and incompetents. (The young samurais in Kurosawa Akira’s 1962 “Sanjuro” are incompetent, but not cowards; the canny older one played by Mifune Toshiro attempts to minimize bloodshed in accomplishing justice, as both Soza and the druggist do here…)

The images are soft, the conception is sentimental (some consider Koreeda the Steven Spielberg of Japan, though “Nobody Knows,” his film most focused on children does not seem sentimental to me). The music sounds Celtic (like some of “Lord of the Rings”), reputedly played on 18th-century European instruments.

Although too long and unnecessarily confusing, this movie about the urban poor works better than Kurosawa’s adaptation of “The Lower Depths” (Donzoko, 1957), and certainly much better than his disastrous “Dodesukaden” (1970). The set of a slum that looks like a village rather than a part of an already large city particularly recalls the one from “The Lower Depths” (I thought the set was the best aspect of that movie, partly because of the way much of it was shot from above).

There is a great deal (at least for American mores) of talk about producing and collecting “night soil” to be used as fertilizer. Also a comic visit from Soza’s philandering uncle who projects his womanizing onto the shy and chaste (but loving) Soza.

Okada Junichi is winsome and handsome somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Perkins from the mid-1950s (before “Psycho”). Like seemingly every leading Hong Kong actor, Okada is also a pop singer

The movie’s full Japanese title was “Hana Yori mo Naho,” which means something more than a flower, and I think indexes Soza being something more than a killing machine that dies young. Near the end he and Osae discuss the beautiful cherry blossoms falling… and that there will be more next year. For them death is not a goal.

Despite being sometimes confused by “Hana,” I mostly enjoyed it. I think, however, that the trilogy of Yamada Yoji movies about samurais who preferred ordinary life to fame as heroes — “The Twilight Samurai” (2002), “The Hidden Blade” (2004), “Love and Honor” (2006) — are more interesting and look better.

©2010, Stephen O. Murray

The sumptuous colors of “Jigokumon” (Gate of Hell)

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Jigokumon” (Gate of Hell), directed by the veteran film-maker (and former onnagata silent-film actor) Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982), was one of the movies from Japan in the early 1950s that awed film-lovers in the rest of the world (following Kurosawa’s “Rashômon” and Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu,” also starring Machiko Kyô). Unlike most of the canonical Japanese classics of the 1950s, “Jigokumon” was in opulent color. The court and warrior costumes were so impressive that the generally very ethnocentric voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to award it the Oscar for costume design for a film in color (the first technical award given to a film not in English, I think). It was also selected best foreign-language film (before that was a formal category) by Academy voters and by New York film critics, and received the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

“Jigokumon” still looks very impressive. It seems that many of the films (none of them new) I’ve seen of late have been more impressive visually than dramatically. In the middle of watching “Jigokumon,” I thought it was another film to add to that list. The dramatic gears grind slowly between a flamboyant beginning and an ending that retrospectively justifies the slow-seeming middle (relatively slow: the whole movie only take 86 minutes) and surprises expectations. I certainly do not want to specify what happens, or, more to the point, what is said at the end. In no sense is there a trick ending: the surprise is more cerebral than physical.

Even allowing for cultural differences between 21st-century America and 12th-century Japan, the plot is somewhat perplexing. The first part is straightforward enough. While the military commander who is also a monk is gone, a rebellion within the palace in Kyoto occurs. The defenders of the regime need someone to impersonate the empress and to draw off attackers so the real empress can slip out. Lady-in-waiting Kesa (Machiko Kyô volunteers and dons an extraordinary golden robe not just belonging to but signifying the empress.

The samurai in charge of getting Kesa to safety Moritoo (Kasuo Hasegawa [A Kaubuki Actor’s Revenge, Crucified Lovers]) has to face down his brother who has joined the rebels. The escape to Moritoo’s home is hokey and the failure of the rebels to seize the woman they think is the empress is inexplicable. (Also, the viewer does not learn what happened to the real emperor and empress). After Moritoo carries the news to the commander, Lord Kiyomori (Senda Koreya) and catches and slays a spy, the rebellion is put down. It seems that “Jigokumon” is a samurai film about an early period of unrest (the declining Heian period, ca. 1160), but in one of those scenes in which samurais and officials kneel motionless as decisions are announced, the genre shifts from treachery and swordplay to stubbornness and erotic obsession.

The commander (shogun?) asks Moritoo what he wants as a reward for his role in putting down the rebellion—anything but the commander’s head or that of his family. What Moritoo asks for is Kesa. When informed that she is already married, he refuses to drop his request and the commander can neither deny nor grant it. To save his face, Moritoo should withdraw the request, though underlings could be (imperatively) “asked” to break their marriages (this is central to the later masterpiece “Samurai Rebellion” which also focuses on unseemly stubbornness defying everyone’s expectations).

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Lady Kesa is mortified and feels that she must somehow be to blame for the outrageous request, but her very dignified husband Wataru (Yamagata Isao [Samurai Rebellion]) does not blame her or take the bid for his wife particularly seriously. Moritoo persists and behaves more and more outrageously (all the more so judged by the samurai code). Why he is not transferred to some far frontier or ordered to kill himself (or trapped on one of his forays) is inexplicable to me, but honor is eventually upheld (albeit in unexpected ways, as I’ve already noted).

The married couple is placed in a position that they find untenable and I find hard to believe could happen in a courtly society with extremely rigid rules of decorum. The plot requires more suspension of disbelief than I can muster and there is practically no revelation of motivation of the characters through most of the movie. I don’t think that “Jigokumon” is a great movie (as “Ran” or “Sanshô dayû” are), but it is a very impressive one, particularly visually. The opening battle and the horse race are especially striking, as is Wataru’s final speech are especially noteworthy, as are the cinematography of Mizoguchi regular Sugiyama Kôhei and Wada Mitsuzô’s costume design.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Miike’s remake in color of “Hara-kiri”

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I think that Miike Takashi’s 3-D color 2011 “Hara-Kiri” is a pointless remake of Kobayashi Masaki’s very great (1962 b&w) version of Takiguchi Yasuhiko’s novel Ibun rônin-ki. I was surprised that it was shorter than the black-and-white original (128:133 minutes). Both have prolonged scenes of immobile samurai talking, before the final explosion of violence. I thought that Eita was excellent as Motome, the son-in-law raised by Hanshirô (Ichikawa Ebizô, who is good, but not as coiled or as charismatic as Nakadai Tatsuya in Kobayashi’s version). (Ishihama Akira was also very impressive as the gentle teacher, a samurai who had no experience of battle.)

The basic story is excruciating, but IMO Kobayashi’s movie did not seem also to be excruciatingly, boringly slow. In Kobayashi’s version, Hanshirô is shot after the retainers cannot handle him, and the shogun praises the House of Li for its handling of the ronin suicides. Kobayashi aimed to show the hollowness of the “code of honor,” about which Miike seems more equivocal, though certainly he also shows the suffering of the former warrior elite with the coming of peace (the pax Togukawa that began a decade before the farthest reach of flashbacks in the movie, though there are allusions to Hanshirô fighting in the decisive 1600 Battle of Sekigahara).

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Sakamoto’ Ryuichi provided a strong musical score (as is his wont; Kobayashi had the services of Takemitsu Toru). And Kita Nobuyasu’s cinematography is as good as for Miike’s previous movie, the 2010 “13 Assassins” (Jûsan-nin no shikaku).

Both versions are harrowing (as was the “Human Condition” trilogy with Nakadai directed by Kobayahsi). I prefer “Samurai Rebellion” (“Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu”, 1967), in which Kobayashi directed Nakadai and Mifune Toshiro in an adaptation of another novel by Takiguchi Yasuhiko (with one of Takemitsu’s best movie scores).

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Slow and formulaic tale of samurai honor and retainer perfidy

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Had I seen Hirayama Hideyuki’s 2010 “Sword of Desperation” (Hisshiken torisashi) before seeing the triptych of Yoji Yamada adaptation of fiction by Fijisawa Shohei (“Twilight Samurai”, “Hidden Blade”, “Love and Honor”, each made earlier in this millennium than “Sword of Desperation”), I’m sure I would have been very enthusiastic. There is little that is new about “Sword of Desperation,” not least the perfidy of officials and the stoicness of the protagonist.

One novelty is that after a performance in the courtyard of a daimyo Lord Ukyo (Murakami Jun), his favored mistress, the very manipulative Renko (Seki Megum) is cut down by retainer samurai Sanzaemon (Toyokawa Etsushi). Sanzaemon expects to be executed or order to commit suicide, but is only locked up for a year (with his rice stipend cut), then is brought back by pragmatic chief retainer Minbu Tsuda (Kishibe Ittoku) to guard the daimyo, who is threatened by a more popular step brother, Lord Obiya (Kikkawa Koji),

“Sword of Desperation” could have used some of the sly humor Yamada’s Fijisawa late-Tokugawa samurai movies (or Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro“). It has a big Sanzaemon against a horde of lesser samurai fight that leads (at long last) to demonstration of the “sword of desperation” move. There is also an aim-inhibited romance between Sanzaemon and his niece-in-law Rio (Ikewaki Chizuru), whose fiancé rejected her.

Between the opening slaying and the closing, very protracted battle, the middle is sluggish, though filling in Sanzaemon’s character and the backstory of Renko’s interference in running the domain (into the ground for her family’s profit) that led to murdering a woman.

Ishii Kôichi’s cinematography is vivid early and late and in flashbacks, muted while Sanzaemon is under house arrest (spending his time whittling).

I thought that the familiar Kishibe Ittoku (13 Assasins, etc.) was especially good as the devious chief-of-staff.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

When honor demands it, even a very domesticated samurai can do battle

 

 

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The English title “Love and Honor” (L&H) has the elements backward: honor is way, way, way more prominent for the characters in “Bushi no ichibun” (2006—bushido is the samurai code of honor, so the Japanese title indicates primacy for honor). As with the two preceding historical dramas adapted from the fiction of Shuhei Fujisawa and directed and by Yamada Yôji (born in 1931), The Twilight Samurai (2002) and The Hidden Blade (2004), the samurai duties are onerous and domestic life is prominently displayed.

The samurai protagonists  in this triptych are ready to fight, but reluctant. And for Japanese (past or present) they are very uxorious: they are in love with their wives and would rather be with their wife than hanging out with the other samurais.

These samurai are low-paid ones who are skilled with swords but rarely unsheath them. In L&H Shinnojo (Kimura Takuya) is one of the five samurai who taste dishes before they are served to the aging lord of the castle. (The inadequacies of protection in this set-up struck me at once).

Shinnojo would prefer to teach swordsmanship to children and be home with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) who was adopted and raised by Shinnojo’s father. (In the Japanese colony of Taiwan, such daughters-in-law taken in as children were called simbua, and husbands raised with their future wives tended to feel something of an incest taboo about these wives, so the marriages had low fertility. The movie’s Kayo has not borne any children, but Shinnojo is shown as being very in love with her—to an extent unusual even for Japanese couples not raised together.)

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There is also an aged loyal retainer inherited by Shinnojo form his father, Tokuhei (Takashi Sasano), who provides comic relief but is in some ways wiser than his young master.

Plot spoiler alert

Shinnojo eats some shellfish that should not have been served out of season. The lord is saved from the toxins, but when Shinnojo emerges from a coma that followed a high fever, he is blind.

The melodrama of his family pressing Kayo to go and seek help from a randy castle official, Shimada Toya  (Bando Mitsugoro) then whispering about what she has done to Shinnojo is almost as maddening to the viewer as it is to Shinnojo. As Aunt Ine, Momoi Kaori is easy to loathe (as Shinnojo long had).

The official has certification more impressive than Shinnojo’s and is reluctant to duel someone not only of lower status but who is blind (what glory can there be in winning a duel with a blind man?).

Anyone expecting another Zatôichi blind-swordsman movie… has not seen “Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade.” All three movies have climactic sword fights, but even the sword fights are character-driven, not cartoonish action sequences. This is not to say that they are not choreographed interestingly!

What happens after the duel is pretty predictable and very audience-pleasing.

End plot spoiler alert

The visual style is austere, not amplifying the melodrama in the Douglas Sirk manner. There is camera movement, but the visual austerity is reminiscent of Ozu movies. The lower-class woman with no good options seems very Mizoguchi, with Tokuhei resembling comic figures in Kurosawa movies (not least the fool in “Ran,” Kurosawa’s imagining of a Japanese “King Lear”).

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In his de facto trilogy (with different characters, I’m pretty sure the movies were not conceived as a trilogy) Yamada has single-handedly revitalized samurai movies in/for this millennium. Although I have no idea whether Yamada is familiar with Hollywood revisionist westerns of the early 1950s (The Gunfighter, The Searchers, Winchester ’73, et al., the samurai in Yamada’s trilogy are more human than action hero with concerns other than glory as fighters.

“Twilight Samurai” remains the most original and most striking, but I think all three are worth seeing by those with some patience for ritualized Japanese conduct. (The pacing is too slow for me, but I’m used to it from the Japanese classics. Nakadai Tatsuya coiled through most of Kobayashi Masaki’s “Seppuku” (1962) was an outstanding precursor of the long delay of the violence, as was Toshiro Mifune and Nakadai Tatsuya  putting off their inevitable duel in Kobayashi’s  “Samurai Rebellion” (1967) is another)

The samurai lead in L&H is younger than those in the previous two Yamada samurai movies. Kimura Takuya is apparently a big tv star in Japan. He can hold the screen without histrionics. Newcomer Dan Rei is also impressive as the loving wife.

©2009, 2016, Stephen O. Murray

Late in samurai history, a samurai’s first real duel

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If I hadn’t seen Yamada Yoji‘s very impressive 2002 “Twilight Samurai,” (Tasogare Seibei) I probably would rapturously praise Yamada’s 2004 “The Hidden Blade,” (Kakushi ken oni no tsume), which repeats so many of its themes with only slight variation in characters and their difficult situations in the final decade of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868).

As in “Twilight Samurai,” there is a very skilled swordsman, Munezo Katagiri (Nagase Masatoshi, “The Sea Is Watching,” “Mystery Train”) who is disenchanted with serving a corrupt clan chief retainer (Ken Ogata, who once portrayed Mishima Yulio in Paul Shrader’s biopic). The obsolescence of samurai swordsmanship is even more obvious in “Hidden Blade,” because other low-level samurai are being drilled by a frustrated modern (gun-oriented) instructor from Edo (later renamed Tokyo). Their trying to high-steep in kimonos and sandals is quite comic. Eventually, they don trousers and shoes and begin to resemble a modern army.

Katagiri, however, is ordered to take out a rebel who has broken out of prison and is barricaded with an old peasant and his grand-daughter. Katagiri has a strong aversion to the assignment, less because of concern about being killed (which was paramount for the Twilight Samurai being sent to eliminate an expert swordsman who had refused to commit hari-kari and barricaded himself in a peasant house) and being separated from his love (from whom he is already geographically separated) than from not wanting to kill a “brother in the sword.” Hazama Yaichiro (Ozawa Yukiyoshi) was seen in the very first scene departing for Edo, sent off by his best friends, Katagiri and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Samon (Yoshioka Hidetaka).

Over the course of the movie, the viewer learns that Katagiri and Hazama were the star pupils of their cohort at Toda Kansai’s academy and fought three exhibition matches, of which Katagiri won two, though Katagiri three times says that in a real sword fight Hazama would have won (and killed him). This is also Hazama’s view.

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Katagiri also three times reports that he has never drawn his sword in a real duel or battle. As Jet Li says of wu-shu and as Toshiro Mifune showed as the title character in Sanjuro Tsubaki, Katagiri says that a samurai should try to settle matters without fighting. But like Jet Li characters and characters in innumerable westerns (particularly Anthony Mann ones), if fight he must, fight he will. As in “Twilight Samurai,” Katagiri’s preparation for fighting and possible dying is shown in meticulous detail. And as in “Twilight Samurai,” the fight-to-the-death is in the confined space of a house. Unlike in many samurai movies, but as in “Twilight Samurai,” the hero does not emerge unscathed and unruffled. The swordsmen here cut each other and eventually struggle for breath (contrast “Goyokin,” for instance).

And, as in “Twilight Samurai,” the hero has been in love since childhood with someone he cannot think of marrying because of caste differences. In both movies, the beloved has a horrible marriage to an abusive husband (and driven to the brink of death by a ferocious mother-in-law, played by Mitsumoto Sachiko, in “Blade”) before love (mutual but unspoken) has any chance.

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Despite its title “The Hidden Blade” is more a love story—albeit one between very repressed individuals who try to force themselves not to think of the one they love—than an action movie. In both movies, the fights, when they occur, are all the more impressive for being severely rationed.

Oh yes, “the hidden blade”: that is a technique that only one samurai in a generation (within the clan) learns. Hazama is resentful that it was not he who was taught it, and is very curious about whether Katagiri will use it in fighting him. It is a surprising technique and Katagiri eventually uses it, but what it is and when it will be used are the main suspense of the movie (love eventually triumphs, as in most movies, and as the audience—if not the characters—expect). There are some other surprises.

What is not surprising is the series of exquisite visual compositions. “Hidden Blade” looks as good as “Twilight Samurai,” which is extremely high praise. The cinematographer for both was Naganuma Mutsuo. (also responsible for shooting “Zaiotchi” and for other Yamada movies, including “Gakko”). The disenchanted samurai has to carry both movies. Nagase Masatoshi is up to the challenge, supported by the open faced Matsu Takako as Kie, the woman he loves but cannot marry. Ozawa Yukiyoshi is also excellent as the crazed prisoner and escaped prisoner Hazama, And Tanaka Min, a dancer who had never acted before playing the barricaded master swordsman in “Twilight Samurai” has another interesting turn as the teacher, Toda Kansai, who has renounced his samurai status, but is ready, willing, and able to coach Katagiri before his first duel-to-the-death.

Not a chambara (swordplay) movie, “The Hidden Blade” is akin to many of the 1960s rebel samurai films (especially. Kobayashi’s, “Samurai Rebellion” and “Hara-Kari“) in showing a very honorable samurai in a dishonorable world, torn between obedience to corrupt masters and parts of the samurai code (bushido) other than the duty to obey. (The chasm between what the regime claims are its values and how it unscrupulously uses those who believe in those values, of course, has not contemporary relevance—or does it?)There is some broad humor in “The Hidden Blade” (not the black humor of “Yojimbo” and Kill!). And the end of the era of the skilled swordsman is more clearly inscribed (often being only implicit in rebel samurai films).

The pace is slow, and, as I began by saying, I recently “saw it all” (with minor variations) before in Yamada’s “Twilight Samurai.” Otherwise, I would think “The Hidden Blade” was a great movie. It is a great movie if repeating oneself is not considered a bar to the label (and I don’t mean that the two are similar).

The Tartan DVD includes a 16-minute featurette on the making of the movie, with Yamada (again) stressing his interest in showing low-rank characters. It also shows some of the training of the actors. There is 8 minutes of red-carpet coverage of the film’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival with Yamada’s introduction of the movie before its showing and 6 minutes of press conference that adds little to what Yamada said in the “making of” featurette. The DVD includes both the original Japanese trailer (filled with spoiler) and the (misleading) US release one. A howler-filled essay by Jonathan Crocker is very dispensable (I mean someone who can’t distinguish between the name of the main character and the actor portraying him? That the film with its frequent mentions of the shogun(ate) is set in the 1890s? .Etc.!)

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray