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DVD Review by David Blackwell

DETAILS: 132 minutes, three featurettes, two trailers, and four Tartan previews

STUDIO: Tartan Video/ Sochiku

RELEASE DATE: 8-8-2006

I have always been fascinated by samurai, but I didn't really see a movie about corruption in the ranks and how samurai life was really like until I watched THE HIDDEN BLADE. Munezo Katagiri is a low level samurai in love with his former maid, Kie. At the end of the Edo period, things are changing in Japan as the samurai are learning about Western weaponry such as guns and cannons. Katagiri feels like he will be a relic like other samurai when they are being taught new ways. They fear the old ways will be gone. However, Katagiri is an honorable man. He rescues Kie from the family she was married into when they do nothing to make her well after she has been sick for two months. Kie likes working for him again, but he is told that things can't go on like that. In the middle of all this personal drama, an old friend is brought home in secret as a prisoner for his role in trying to change things. They have banded the guy a traitor and no right to an honorable death. When he escapes, the corrupt head of the clan orders Katagiri to kill him.

THE HIDDEN BLADE is an accurate look at samurai life. They hardly ever drew their sword. They feared killing when they had to do it. Also you see the gaps between higher class and lower class samurai. The film also reflects on the fact that a samurai can't marry a servant because they are of different castes. Other samurai films like ZATOICHI feature multiple sword fights where THE HIDDEN BLADE only has one real fight. The other fights are just to keep their skills honed by practicing. THE HIDDEN BLADE also has emotion and a love that must remain hidden. Katagiri and Kie can't admit to the fact that they love each other. My favorite scenes have to be the one on the beach between Katagiri and Kie, and then the final scene of the film. They play on different sides of the smae coin. Also lots of comedic relief when the samurai are being taught to march and run like Western armies. THE HIDDEN BLADE is a finely crafted drama that is more about showing the day to day life of samurai and the people around them instead of samurai getting into battles.

VIDEO: 1.85:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen)

The colors and shadow values aren't bad. Image detail is good.

AUDIO: Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, Japanese 5.1 DTS, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Stereo

Subtitles: English, Spanish (feature only)

Dialogue is easy to hear and dialogue translation via subtitles is excellent. Surround action isn't bad and yet so subtle at other times.

SPECIAL FEATURES: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH DIRECTOR YOJI YAMADA is too clip heavy despite giving a little info and look at the making of THE HIDDEN BLADE. The other two featurettes are much better. The BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE shows director Yoji Yamada attend the Berlin Film Festival for the premiere of his film while being appreciated by his fans. YOJI YAMADA PRESS CONFERENCE has the director accepting an award from the Japanese government. Also included with the extras are the Japanese and US theatrical trailers for THE HIDDEN BLADE and previews for VITAL, LADY VENGEANCE, BATTLE IN HEVAEN, and THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU. An essay with a few errors (pointed out by a reviewer at DVD Talk) like getting the name of the actor and main character confused is included as an insert in the DVD case.

FINAL ANALYSIS: THE HIDDEN BLADE is a classic that tackles the day to day life of samurai. If you love samurai films or foreign films, you should check it out for a portrait of samurai life. Hopefully Tartan Video will provide a few more extras for the next samurai film from director Yoji Yamada which will conclude the trilogy that TWILIGHT SAMURAI and THE HIDDEN BLADE are a part of.

this review is (c)8-4-2006 David Blackwell and cannot be reprinted without permission (except for excerpts and a link to the review). Look for additional content at http://enterlinemedia.livejournal.com and send all comments to lord_pragmagtic@hotmail.com