I saw Yoji Yamada’s follow-up to Twilight Samurai tonight at my city’s modern art center. They have three standard stadium seating screens, but special engagements like The Hidden Blade are shown in their cubical multi-purpose gallery, which they set up for films by putting in 25 love-seat couches, so there are only 50 tickets per showing.
Anyway, the film is really called “Kakushi-Ken: Oni No Tsume” which should translate to “Hidden Blade, Devil’s Claw”, the names of two special samurai moves. Which might be a spoiler, since you think the un-named (according to the subtitles) Hidden Blade move has been used when actually it’s something else.
Anyway, the good news is: The Hidden Blade is very similar to The Twilight Samurai.
And the bad news is: The Hidden Blade is very similar to The Twilight Samurai.
The plots and many specific situations from both movies are practically interchangeable. The main characters are almost identical, their personal dramas are almost identical, and their professional dilemmas are almost identical. If you watched both movies back-to-back for the first time you would not be faulted for getting them confused.
So you’ll be shocked, shocked to discover the story is a combination of two stories by Shuuhei Fujisawa, the author of the novels that Twilight Samurai was based on.
One of the subplots that is more pronounced in The Hidden Blade is the samurai’s attempted adoption of new western military technologies. Yamada uses near slapstick to satirize the ridiculous acceptance of idiosyncratic cultural traditions (such as English marching) that the Japanese assume is inseparable from the use of western weapons. For better or worse, these become the most memorable scenes.
There is not much else to say except that if you liked Twilight Samurai, you will like this one. But there is nothing really new, comparable to the House of Flying Daggars having similarities to Hero yet going in new directions.
The only criticism I can think of is that the protagonist’s personal drama is very distinct from the other half of the movie, and it does feel like two different stories whose scenes were intercut together without affecting each other. If I recall correctly (and I’m not sure I can now trust my memory of it) Twilight Samurai did a better job of building the suspense of his final showdown, because the outcome affected people in his personal life more directly.
Still, the Hidden Blade is an enjoyable and relaxing look at the life of a humble, honest samurai in a time of change and all that.