Film

The Hidden Blade (Kakushi-ken: oni no tsume) (2004)

Jesse Hicks

Katagiri's masculine code is being replaced by an economy premised on gunpowder and shot.

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

Director: #244;ji Yamada
Cast: Takako Matsu, Masatoshi Nagase, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Hidetaka Yoshioka
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Tartan Films
Display Artist: Yôji Yamada
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2006-06-23 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
You wouldn't have wanted to die by the gun.

-- Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase)

When Western firearms came to mid-19th-century Japan, samurai culture changed forever. To a region where the sword was not just a weapon, but the embodiment of a way of life, the rifle brought an entirely new set of expectations and possibilities. The gun, too, embodies a culture: in the samurai's view, one obsessed with the new, disdainful of traditional wisdom. The clash between gun and sword, then, is the collision of "progressive" values with ancient tradition, and it's this conflict that drives The Hidden Blade.

The film opens on a trio of samurai from Japan's Unasaka domain. Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) and the younger Samon Shimada (Hidetaka Yoshioka) bid goodbye to Yaichiro Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), dispatched by his superiors to the far-off city of Edo. Hazama is, according to Shimada, "a man who'll rise in the world," but Katagiri has ominous premonitions about the journey. Both men -- absent Hazama and dutiful Katagiri -- are barometers for the changes coming to Japan's longstanding caste system.

With Hazama away at Edo, his friends and family continue along their preordained paths: Samon marries Katagiri's younger sister, Shino (Tomoko Tabata). Kie (Takako Matsu), maid of the Katagiri household, marries a wealthy merchant. All is as it should be; this is the relaxed domesticity the samurai fights to protect. He is, after all, at the top of the hierarchy, an armed agent of the status quo.

At the same time, those at the top are unwittingly eroding their privileged position. The authorities at Edo provide Unasaka's warriors with guns and a military trainer, whose efforts to remake them play as farce, with misfiring cannons and botched march formations. The samurais laugh at the culture of the gun, unaware that they are being rendered obsolete. But the military trainer explains, "Wars now are won by the most expensive weaponry. By money. Such is the age that is upon us." Gone is the dignity of looking an opponent in the eye on the field of battle. Katagiri's masculine code is being replaced by an economy premised on gunpowder and shot. He accepts this change stoically, as a mandate from on high. Only later does he realize how much has been lost.

A less abstract problem appears when Katagiri hears that Kie, whom he's secretly loved for years, is being mistreated by her husband. Enraged to hear that Kie, whom his family spent many years training to be a good and dutiful bride, is being treated so badly, he bursts in and carries her off in an act of impulsive chivalry that sets the village gossips twittering. Katagiri has the best of intentions, nursing Kie back to health and never hinting at any carnal desires. But he can never marry her because of their caste differences, and eventually sends her to live with her parents.

The cultural values most associated with firearms -- think of cowboys, the American samurai, reticent and independet -- would allow Katagiri to marry whomever he wants. But his world is not ready for that, a point that's driven home with the return of his old friend Hazama. The man who left an honored samurai returns as a fugitive after rebelling in Edo. Hazama wanted to change the system (thought out of arrogance more than anything), and now the system must destroy him. The duty falls to Katagiri, the only swordsman ever to best Hazama.

Killing his best friend would reinforce Katagiri's position in a society that soon has no place for him and keeps him from love. The same society has imbued in him a strict moral code. Caught on the crest of time's wave, he's trying to carry traditional values into an unknown future.

The Hidden Blade - Theatrical Trailer

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.