The Hidden Blade 

Directed by Yoji Yamada

Yoji Yamada, having spent much of the years 1969-1995 directing more than 40 installments of the Tora-san comfort-food comedy series, is currently at work on an elegiac samurai trilogy. The Hidden Blade is a near-carbon copy of 2002’s Twilight Samurai: in both films, a low-level retainer (Hiroyuki Sanada in Twilight, Masatoshi Nagase here) defies the conventions of Tokugawa-era society by rescuing a childhood friend (for whom he silently pines) from marital oppression, and reluctantly submits to his superiors’ orders to kill a samurai who’s broken from the clan. Aside from dialogue that does less to submerge thematic concerns, Hidden Blade’s major update on the template is a deepened backstory around the climactic duel; Yamada also brings his spring-loaded choreography up short with a visceral reminder of his characters’ impending obsolescence, intertwining the swordplay centerpiece with genre send-off. The stately camerawork, bathed in gold light and framed by picturesque pastoralia, is unmistakably nostalgic, but Yamada’s aesthetic traditionalism venerates a virtuous man as he chafes against unjust convention. (Even if this progressivism comes with a distinctly patriarchal slant.) That the taciturn hero’s daughter narrated Twilight is the retrospective clincher: Yamada’s making samurai movies about Atticus Finch.

Opens June 23 at Cinema Village

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