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Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume
Directed by Yōji Yamada
Produced by Hiroshi Fukazawa
Written by Yoshitaka Asama
Yōji Yamada
Shūhei Fujisawa (story)
Starring Masatoshi Nagase
Takako Matsu
Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Music by Isao Tomita
Cinematography Mutsuo Naganuma
Editing by Iwao Ishii
Distributed by Shochiku
Release date(s) 2004
Running time 132 minutes
Country  Japan
Language Japanese
Preceded by The Twilight Samurai
Followed by Love and Honor

The Hidden Blade (隠し剣 鬼の爪 Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume?, literally "Hidden Blade: Oni's Claw") is a 2004 film set in 1860s Japan directed by Yoji Yamada. The plot revolves around several samurai during a time of change in the ruling and class structures of Japan. The film was written by Yamada with Yoshitaka Asama and, like its predecessor The Twilight Samurai, based on a short story by Shūhei Fujisawa. The soundtrack is an original composition by Isao Tomita.

Contents

Plot

The story revolves around Munezo Katagiri, a lower caste samurai during the end of the Tokugawa period in Japan. His family falls on hard times after his father takes responsibility for the failure of the Goken Bridge project by committing seppuku.

The film begins with Katagiri and his friend Samon Shimada seeing their friend and fellow samurai Yaichiro Hazama, off at the docks, with Katagiri having a bad feeling about Hazama's fate in Edo. Shimada marries Katagiri’s younger sister Shino. Kie, a servant girl from a farm who came to the Katagiri family at 16 to learn deportment, cooking, and other arts in order to prepare to be a bride also soon marries Iseya, a merchant.

Three years later, Katagiri runs into Kie on the street. He is worried about her because she looks thin and pale and says she has just recovered from a long illness. When asked if she is happy, she does not answer, leaving him wondering if she is living well.

Katagiri and his fellow samurai are being taught about the new weapons and military tactics imported from the Western World. They have a hard time adapting. The older samurai feel that fighting with firearms is without honour and goes against tradition. The military instructor complains bitterly of having to train "backwater village samurai."

Katagiri hears from his sister that Kie has been sick and in bed for two months and that she has been treated very badly by her husband’s family, even refusing to get a doctor for her. Angered by this news, Katagiri goes to the merchant’s house and demands to see Kie. When he finds Kie in a dark and unheated room, he takes her away and forces Iseya to write a statement for divorce. He carries Kie home to nurse her back to health, both actions which are viewed as very "improper" for an unmarried samurai.

One night, Shimada comes to Katagiri with troubling news. Their friend Yaichiro Hazama was involved with some reformers inside the Shogunate in plotting a rebellion in Edo. The plot was discovered by Chief Retainer Hori of the Clan. The clan decided to deal with the rebels in secret. While some of the rebels were allowed to commit hari-kiri, Hazama was not so lucky. He was brought back to the clan's domain in a prisoner's cage and kept in solitary confinement.

Katagiri and Hazama had both studied swordplay under Master Toda. Hazama left in anger when Master Toda chose to pass on the school’s secret technique of the Hidden Blade to Katagiri instead of to him, even though he believed he was a better swordsman than Katagiri.

Katagiri is questioned by the Chief Retainer about his connection with Hazama. When given a list of Master Toda's former disciples, and asked who amongst them is close with Hazama, Katagiri refuses to answer. He replies that, "A samurai does not inform on his fellows."

Meanwhile, rumors are spreading about Katagiri and Kie. Though they clearly love each other, they cannot marry because they are from different castes. Katagiri takes Kie on a trip to the seashore, which Kie has never seen before. There, he tells Kie that she must return to her parents, now that she is healthy. He urges her to marry again. Kie refuses, saying that she has learned her lesson. She says that all she wants is to stay by his side and take care of him, but he commands her to do so.

Hazama breaks out of his cell and barricades himself inside a peasant's hut, holding the family hostage. He taunts the Chief Retainer to send in his foot soldiers, saying that he will kill them one by one until he has built a mountain of corpses. Hazama is widely feared as the Clan's best swordsman. The Chief Retainer summons Katagiri and orders him to kill Hazama.

Katagiri goes to see Master Toda, who has renounced his rank of samurai in order to become a farmer. Toda shows him a move - take his eyes off his opponent and turn his back, and suddenly striking when the opponent attacks carelessly. Toda warns him that it is a dangerous move that may cost him his life.

The night before the duel, Hazama’s wife visits Katagiri and begs him to let Hazama escape. She offers herself to him in return. Katagiri tells her that it is impossible. As she is leaving she says she is going to visit the Chief Retainer Hori. Katagiri is mortified, tells here that Hori is not a moral person and warns her against this course of action. As Katagiri lights her paper lamp and advises her to take care on the road at night, the viewer is aware that a rise in sexual tension in the screenplay has just taken place.

A group of riflemen have been ordered to the farmhouse as well. Katagiri asks them to give him until sunset to deal with Hazama. Katagiri reasons with Hazama, asking him to commit hari-kiri to preserve his honor as a samurai and to spare his wife the shame of being the wife of a criminal. The riflemen move in to surround the house. Hazama draws against Katagiri, who dodges at first, but finally is forced to draw as well. Katagiri is cut on the arm but remains on the defensive. He defeats Hazama with the move Master Toda taught him. But before he can make the final strike, Hazama is shot and killed by the riflemen.

Katagiri encounters Hazama’s wife on the road nearby who admits she had visited the Chief Retainer Hori and offered herself to him if he would spare Hazama's life. The Chief Retainer agreed but deceived her, as he did not send word to Katagiri. Katagiri, dismayed, promises to visit her very soon with news of her husband's final moments. The Chief Retainer gloatingly boasted of taking Hazama's lovely wife when Katagiri questioned him. Katagiri accused him of committing a foul act. Hazama's wife commits suicide upon realizing that she has been deceived. Katagiri arrives at her lodgings too late. At this point in the film, the viewer is feeling depressed and without hope, but that soon changes. Katagiri returns home and removes a small dagger or wakizashi he had long ago placed in his wooden dresser. From this dagger, he unbinds a secret, thin, tiny blade from the handle. One can presume he hide it away to represent his regret of the instruction on its use as it conflicts with his desire not to kill another man. This assassins blade is the movie's namesake as the "the hidden blade" technique or "oni's claw" move. To avenge Hazama and his beautiful wife, Katagiri visits Clan headquarters (during preparations for the spring festival which keeps most of the castle staff busy). He slips unobserved into the castle and hides in an otherwise empty corridor to swiftly and deftly assassinate the smug Chief Retainer Hori with the tiny, needle-like blade. If the viewer blinks they will miss this crucial moment of contact. Clan doctors are unable to ascertain how Hori's heart was punctured by such a fine hole which left no trace of external blood but killed him by internal bleeding. The method of penetration was "not human" they conclude. Viewers come to understand that the title of the film is not about a flamboyant sword-fighting move, but a method of assassination that one takes with the highest consideration and with conscience. With this realization, and samurai honour restored, comes renewed appreciation for the film. After the assassination, Katagiri respectfully visits Hazawa's wife's grave and buries his assassins blade by which he exacted vengeance on their behalf, pushing it into the soil at her funerary mound. After this poignant moment, he is left feeling empty and disillusioned with the Clan, and feeling at his soul cannot be made whole without changing his path.

Katagiri resigns from his status as a samurai as he decided not to kill again. He bids farewell to his sister and brother-in-law to journey north and start a new life with a new occupation. As he leaves for the wilderness of Ezo (known at that time as the Republic of Ezo; modern day Hokkaidō ), he stops at Kie's village and asks her to not only come with him but to marry him; Kie accepts. There are uplifting moments among the dialogue here.

Cast

Awards

In addition to sixteen nominations[1], the film received the following awards:

  • Award of the Japanese Academy for "Best Art Direction" to Mitsuo Degawa and Yoshinobu Nishioka
  • Hochi Film Award for "Best Actress" to Takako Matsu
  • Mainichi Film Concours for "Best Supporting Actress" to Tomoko Tabata

References

  1. ^ Awards for Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume at IMDB

External links

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