Kakushi ken oni no tsume (The Hidden Blade) (2004)
Director: Yôji Yamada.
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase (Munezo Katagiri), Takako Matsu (Kie), Yukiyoshi Ozawa (Yaichiro Hazama), Hidetaka Yoshioka (Samon Shimada), Min Tanaka (Kansai Toda), Tomoko Tabata (Shino Katagiri, Ken Ogata (Chief Retainer Hori), Nenji Kobayashi (Ogata), Reiko Takashima (Hazama's Wife), Chieko Baisho (Mrs. Katagiri), Sachiko Mitsumoto (Mrs. Iseya), Kunie Tanaka.
set in the late Tokugawa era, dealing with the dissatisfied lower samurai who brought an end to the era, a clan makes a samurai kill his friend
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Samurai Yaichiro Hazama is going to Edo (the future Tokyo) and is leaving his beautiful wife behind. His two samurai friends Munezo Katagiri and Samon Shimada are at the dock to see him off on his journey. Katagiri has a bad feeling about his friend going to Edo. Shimada goes with Katagiri to his house to eat. Shimada is in love with his friend's sister Shino Katagiri. The mother is there and a servant named Kie, of whom Munezo is very fond. Squire Simada is of a higher class, so Mrs. Katagiri asks him if his parents might object to a marriage with her daughter. Samon assures her: "I alone will choose who I will marry." And sure enough Samon marries Shino.
Three years later. Kie has left the household. She married into a family of merchants. Munezo says: "It was as if the light had gone out in our house." One day Munezo sees Kie shopping. He talks with her and asks her if she is o.k. and if she is happy. Munezo is worried because he sees that Kie is very unhappy. He asks her if she could come to their house and clean a little. She is happy to do so. At home Munezo tells his mother that he saw Kie and that she is pale and thin and looks ill. He says: "The poor girl." He feels bad that he did not try harder to help her.
Munezo is learning about the new western weaponry and is having a hard time mastering it. He attends classes to learn how to use western artillery. They give a demonstration of artillery fire to the upper members of the clan. They make some mistakes and have to change some things. They fire the weapon and it recoils up and over the pile of dirt backstop and nearly hits some of the viewers behind the backstop.
Munezo's mother dies. His uncle attends the funeral service. He is very upset about the introduction of modern western weapons. He feels it is unbecoming to the traditions of the samurai. He keeps criticizing Munezo for learning the new technology. He then criticizes him for not finding a wife.
Kie is sick and in bed. She's been there for two months. She miscarried. And now the Iseya family refuses to pay for a doctor to see her. Furthermore, that family turned away Kie's own father so he could not see her. Munezo vows that he will see her. Samon goes with him to her house. The eldest woman of the house refuses to let Munezo see Kie. But Munezo demands to see her and asks her: "Do you refuse?" Yes, the old lady refuses. So Munezo says: "I will see her anyway." He demands that they take him to Kie's bedroom. They march through the house until he sees Kie. She looks terrible. And the room is freezing cold. She tells Munezo that she thinks she is going to die: "But I wanted to see you first and apologize." (Apologize for not coming to clean his house.) Munezo picks up Kie and carries her back to his house. Before he leaves he tells the husband: "Write a statement of divorce. I'll pick it up tomorrow."
Shino comes to visit Kie and apologizes for not seeing her sooner. Samon is still a bit shocked: "A samurai carrying a woman on his back in broad daylight!" One day a young girl comes to the house. She is Kie's sister, Bun. When she sees Kie, she cries because she was so worried about her. One of the things she is curious about it whether or not her sister can marry the master. Kie says no because they are of different castes. Then Bun wants to know what a "caste" is.
Samon comes to the house. He tells Munezo that there is trouble. Hazama is being sent down from Edo for plotting a rebellion. He will be caged and kept in their domain. Apparently, Hazama was involved with some reformers inside the Shogunate. Chief Retainer Hori found out about it and decided to have him brought here in a prisoner's basket. Oh, and all this is top secret.
1861. The samurai from the Unasaka clain in Edo plotted against the Shogun. Fearing the Shogun would find out, the clan dealt with the rebels in secret. Yaichiro Hazama was not allowed the privilege of seppuku (ritual suicide).
Chief Retainer Hori calls for Munezo. Munezo and Hazama had studied under the same instructor, Master Kasnsai Toda. It is said that they were about equal in their skills.
Munezo tells Kie about his father. There was a problem with the accounts for the Goken River bridge. "My father took responsibility and committed seppuku." Then his family was kicked out of their big house and had to move into a much smaller one. In addition, their relatives shunned them.
Samon asks Munezo if he might consider marrying a young woman he knows. Munezo says that he wouldn't consider it. He's perfectly happy now. Then Samon tells him that the family did not want him anyway because his father had to commit seppuku. It was a hypothetical question. Samon says Shion is getting a lot of complaints from his parents for Munezo not being married. They are disturbed by his relationship with Kie.
Munezo has a talk with Kie. He tells her that she is healthy now and should go back to her parents. But Kie says that she wants to stay with him as they are. She adds that she will not marry again. She asks him to allow her to stay. He gets angry and tells her that she cannot live as his servant for the rest of her life. That would be unfair to her. Since he insists, she asks him if that is his command. Yes. Very, well, "I have no choice but to obey." They go back home. After instructing the man servant how to care for the master, she leaves by herself.
Hazama escapes. He pretended that he was dead and when the guard put his hand through the bars to give him a little shove, he grabs the man's arm and threatens to break it if he does not give him the keys. The guard gives him the keys. After the escape, the guard runs to get help. He so exhausts himself that he dies when he reaches help. But he has a letter with him that is given to Chief Retainer Hiro. The call goes out again for Munezo. They explain that Hazama has escaped and barricaded himself in a peasant family's hut. He is holding the old man and the granddaughter hostage. They tell Munezo that he is the only one who can cut Hazama down. Munezo asks: "Is it an order?" If he does not, he will be considered to be in league with the rebel Hazama. In other words, it's an order. They will send a squad of riflemen with him armed with the latest in rifle technology.
Munezo goes to his old master for help with his swordsmanship. He explains that he has to fight Hazama. Tado says: "I always thought that would happen one day." So the master shows him a new technique or "trick" to use. Step back, feign a loss of concentration and then strike the opponent in the mid-section with the sword while the opponent raises his sword to strike a death blow.
That night the beautiful wife of Hazama comes to ask Munezo if he cannot let her husband escape into the mountains. Munezo tells her that it is impossible. She offers herself to Munezo, but he is shocked and rejects the idea. So the wife tells Munezo that she will try to convince Hori to tell Munezo not to kill her husband. Munezo vehemently tells her not to do it. He will just deceive her.
The next morning Munezo goes to the peasant's hut. He goes alone to talk with Hazama. The rebel says: "They sent you after me?" Munezo tells him to commit seppuku as a samurai should. He refuses. He says that it is Hori who is the real traitor to their clan and he is the one who should be killed. While the two men talk, the riflemen surround the house. Hazama shows Munezo the old samurai sword he found in the barn. Then he brags that he is the best swordsman in the entire clan. Munezo asks: "Do you insist on fighting, Hazama?" Yes.
The men begin to sword fight. Hazama seems to be the superior swordsman. He even wounds Munezo in the left arm. Then Munzo tries the new technique. He feigns distraction and when Hazama raises his sword, he slashes the man across the stomach area. Hazama is absolutely shocked and asks: "What was that?" He declares it was some type of "trick". Hazama is definitely wounded and is bleeding, but the blow was partly stopped by a big knot on a rope around Hazama's belly. Hazama raises his right arm way up high, but a bullet slams into the upper forearm and takes the wrist and hand right off his arm. Munezo loudly protests against shooting a samurai in battle, but another shot hits Hazama solidly in the chest and he goes down forever. Munezo apologizes for the way Hazama was killed. The riflemen come closer to make sure Hazama is dead.
On his way back home Munezo runs into Hazama's wife. He tells her that he is sorry and says: "I pray you will not hate me.". She tells him that Hiro told him not to kill her husband. Munezo has to inform her that no such message was given to him. She tells him: "The Chief Retainer said he would spare my husband." "He deceived you" says Munezo. She goes to the peasant's hut to look at her husband's body.
Munezo reports to Hori. He tells him that the new guns saved him. But the chief retainer and his aide insist that they drink a toast to the event. The aide says: "You'll be rewarded." Hiro dismisses him, but Munezo tells him he has something else to say. He asks Hori if Hazama's wife paid him a visit the previous night. She did. Hiro asks what man could resist her and adds that he enjoyed her to the fullest and she had a very enjoyable time as well. Munezo then tells Hiro that that was a foul thing to do to Hazama's wife. Hori becomes furious and jumps up. The aide says to Munezo: "You fool." Hori says he will deal with Munezo later.
Muenzo, on his way home, stops to see Hazama's wife. She lies just inside the door in a pool of blood. She killed herself as her husband had asked her to do if he was killed.
Muenzo takes a hidden blade from the hilt of his sword. It is very sharp and long-pointed. He goes back to see Hiro. When he sees the man in the hall all alone, he punches the blade into his chest. He dies. The doctor examines him and finds the very small entrance wound. But the doctor says that inside, Hori is filled with blood from internal injuries.
Munezo buries the hidden blade in the dirt around the grave of Hazama's wife. He says: "I have avenged you and Hazama." He then abandons his samurai status. He says he does not want to kill again. Munezo has decided to go way up north to Ezo. His sister and brother-in-law say good-bye to him. He walks over to the home of Kie. He takes her to a quiet spot and tells her that he is no longer a samurai. "Will you come with me?" he asks. "Would you be my wife. . . . I love you." He has loved her from the first time he ever saw her. After a long pause Kie asks: "Is that why you command, sir?" "Yes, that is my command." Then Kie responds: "If it's your command, then I have no choice but to obey."
A very enjoyable movie. Especially interesting was the director's insistence that everything be like it was at the period of time that the movie portrays. And there is a section on DVD in the extra features sections that shows many of the old ways of doing things. Also interesting was the difficulty of some of the old samurai in accepting the new western weaponry. (U.S.A. Commodore Matthew Perry had just recently opened up Japan to the west.) Apparently, many believed that it was something shameful for the samurai to learn. Another interesting feature was that of the caste system and the clan system. And then there is a nice love story with a happy ending for a change.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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