Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Hidden Blade (2004)


When his childhood friend, and family maid, turns out to be abused by the family she has married into, samurai Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase), goes in and rescues her, at the cost of his reputation. From different castes systems, Katagiri and Kie (Takako Matsu) are unable to marry, and Kie stays around as his personal maid, causing ill-thoughts to be spread amongst the clan. Yet as the age of the Samurai falls aside, the rise of firearms begins, Katagiri must find a way to balance his hate of killing, disallowed love, and modern ways of living.

The spiritual sequel, and companion piece, to the 2002 hit The Twilight Samurai, re-enacts pretty much the same story (really they're the exact same) with new characters, all stuck in the same time period. As a stand alone movie The Hidden Blade is far more about the characters, than action, with the film containing only one fight sequence, which lasts all of five minutes towards the end. Echoing throughout the film is a sense of hatred towards death, and the act of killing. Katagiri re-iterates throughout his dislike of violence, and that nobody ever wants to kill someone else. It's a nice notion, which adds a certain level of impact to the final duel, and even more to the subtext of our main character.

In many respects Katagiri is the polar opposite of Twilight's Iguchi, and his interaction with the world around him. While he's a follower, Katagiri is none submissive, and willing to voice his opinion quite loudly when he feels others are being wronged. On one hand it makes him a very likable, and heroic, character, while at the same time making him seem too pure of a person. Kie, as the film's main female, is a rather submissive individual, and by no means a model women. She's willing to deal with any amount of pain, or insult, because society, or her personal desires, declare her to do so. The Katagiri having to save her will definitely not add any points to feminism, but the dynamic plays rather well off of itself throughout the film.

What made the original Twilight Samurai work, though, was the balance of flaws in our main characters. Here those flaws have been subsided in favor of simple romance, little developed emotion, and a more chipper ending. Hidden Blade seeks to be a simple love story, with little depth, and on many levels accomplishes that. Yet I can't help but feel a lack in real connection to the main characters I developed with the first film. Here I care, but not so much that I dream for their happiness. This forces me into a state in which I sway back and forth between interested and disinterested, and while I enjoyed it more than I hated it, I couldn't help but keep asking for things to more well rounded, and developed.

While The Hidden Blade is a capable, and at times beautiful, companion film, it lacks the depth created, and tries to often to be an imitation than its own entity. Which is a shame, as there is such beauty in the characters and performances that it could be classic.

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