Combustible Celluloid
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With: Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Min Tanaka, Tomoko Tabata, Ken Ogata, Nenji Kobayashi
Written by: Yôji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama
Directed by: Yôji Yamada
MPAA Rating: R for some violent material
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 132
Date: 03/18/2013

The Hidden Blade (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dull Sword

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I saw Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai in 2004 but neglected to write a review of it. It wasn't long before it faded completely from my mind. With his newest film, The Hidden Blade, the veteran Japanese filmmaker seems to have perfected a kind of Oscar-ish touch, a respectful, sweeping, distant tone geared to inspire large groups of film critics. In the process, he has neglected anything personal or emotional. In other words, he is more influenced by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) than Kurosawa, Mizoguchi or Ozu. The story takes place in the mid-19th century, when Western fighting tactics began to seep into the traditional Japanese samurai culture. Munezo Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase) finds himself in a bind. He takes in a cleaning woman (Takako Matsu) when it becomes clear that her employers are mistreating her, but the arrangement disgraces him. (His mother trained her and now Katagiri is in love with her.) To make amends, he is forced to fight to the death an old colleague, now an escaped prisoner. It's a pretty simple tale, but -- true to his Western influences -- Yamada slows down the action and stretches it out to a prize-winning length (132 minutes). There's a pretty good swordfight about three-quarters of the way through, but samurai and/or action fans should skip this one.

DVD Details: Tartan's DVD comes with a behind-the-scenes interview, footage of the Berlin Film Festival premiere and press conference and trailers.

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